In July 2017, Ad Age declared, “The Hashtag Boom in TV Commercials is Over.”
As LSB’s chief creative Bill Winchester recently noted, the relevance of television advertising has been on a steady decline the past few years. But there’s still one day every year during which television advertising reigns supreme: the Super Bowl.
Here at LSB, we have a tendency to nerd out on social media listening. So we dove into the raw data to answer the question: Did brands that used hashtags in their Super Bowl advertising see higher lift in social media conversation compared to brands that didn’t?¹ To keep things simple, we limited our analysis to Twitter.
The Super Hashtag Numbers
So did the big picture trend of fewer Super Bowl hashtags in TV commercials apply this year? Simply put, yes. By our count, in 2015, 20 ads included hashtags. This year’s count: Only 11 commercials sported a hashtag.
Since the biggest players in the advertising space are ditching hashtags, does this mean hashtags are now useless in television advertising? Well…not so fast.
It’s an article of faith that the value of a Super Bowl ad is as much about driving earned media and social conversation as it is about pure “advertising.” Remember, we live in a world where Twitter gives out awards to brands that used Twitter the best.
Here’s a graph showing what we found. The x-axis represents levels of Twitter conversation about each brand on an average day. The y-axis shows levels of social media conversation during the Super Bowl. Each dot represents one of the 12 brands in a cross section of categories that we chose to monitor.
The findings: There was no significant advantage in using hashtags to generate social media conversation.
However — and here’s where things get interesting — the brands that had the highest increases in conversation (Avocados from Mexico, Doritos and Mountain Dew) made hashtags an integral part of the entire ad — not just an afterthought that was slapped on to the end of the commercial.
The Super Hashtag Sentiment
But wait! One of our mottos here at LSB (well, at least my motto) is that not all social media conversation is created equal. How did each of the brands do at generating quality social media conversation?
Using some of our custom algorithms, we found the two brands that lead the pack and had the highest sentiment scores were Avocados from Mexico and Mountain Dew.
Little reminder: Avocados from Mexico, Mountain Dew and Doritos were the three brands that made hashtags a central part of their ads — and this hashtag-focused nature of their ads resulted in a positive response on Twitter.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, WeatherTech’s ad tried to evoke patriotism and featured video of construction workers building the company’s newest facility in Illinois. However, many people on Twitter saw this as a pro-border-wall/pro-Trump message and criticized the brand.
Mucinex received an even lower sentiment score than WeatherTech, but taken in context, it makes sense. Mucinex’s #SuperSickMonday campaign actively encouraged people to tweet about taking a “sick” day off of work. In many cases, their tweets got classified as “negative,” but this negativity wasn’t necessarily directed toward the brand.
Other than WeatherTech, brands that did not use hashtags had slightly better sentiment scores compared to those that slapped a hashtag on the end of their ads.
The Super Hashtag Recommendation
What might this mean for your plans for your brand’s television advertising?
Don’t throw in a hashtag for no good reason.
OK, so maybe this isn’t a groundbreaking recommendation, but now we have some data to support our instincts.
We found that including a hashtag at the end of your ad doesn’t appreciably increase levels of social media conversation about your brand. In fact, in an unintended-consequences kind of way, it seems to invite negative social media conversation.
Savvy social media users see right through your extraneous use of hashtags and develop an impression that your brand doesn’t really understand the purpose of a hashtag. Whoops.
Bottom line: Advertising on TV, and especially during the Super Bowl, is a pretty major investment, so use your valuable airtime to focus on your marketing goals, not to chase social media conversation without a clear strategy.
Does it make more sense to include your company’s URL in the ad instead of a hashtag? Maybe, maybe not…but that’s another blog post.
¹Tweets collected using rtweet package