A few years ago, only geeks, programmers and few others knew what “#” was called. We listened to “Jane,” the voice of our voicemail and automated phone systems, call it “the pound sign.” If you were coding in HTML, you may have used the # as a page tag or named page anchor. But now, the little # or “hashtag” has become a part of our vocabulary and is ubiquitous.
Halftime during Super Bowl XLVII was practically a hashtag #cotillion in primetime. Nearly every commercial included a hashtag in the last few frames. But why?
The insight brands and their social agencies keyed in on is that consumers have been using hashtags as part of their everyday vocabulary for a while. The Super Bowl represents one of the rare times the country collectively gathers around the TV, and we’re all sharing at the same time. Nobody, except the brand and the agency, knows the name of a commercial.
Consumers will either share a brand name or, if presented with a hashtag, they will likely use that. For example, you may recall the Hyundai ad but chances are your recall of #PickYourTeam will drive home a visceral recollection of what the commercial was about and why you liked it. More importantly, it might remind you why you wanted to share about the ad. Hashtags are more than just about brand names, they are containers for intent, passion, affinity and sentiment. This intent is powerful targeting for brands.
The insight that each day we all share over 18 billion “things” such as likes, hashtags, links, pictures, videos (the list goes on and on), combined with that insight that a hashtag at a base or meta level is an expression of intent. Now that you know this, when you get home tonight, watch TV for 10 minutes. What you will notice is that hashtags are everywhere. In just the last five minutes, I’ve seen #BeautifulCreatures, #DailyShow, #WarmBodies, #MustHaveWheatThins #KrollShow. Now you know what channel I’m watching, and whether I’m sharing any of those hashtags. If your agency partner picks smart ad platforms, you will be targeting me with the right ad in about 20 milliseconds. Welcome to the next level of where our “conversation economy” has taken us.
If you have been using hashtags as a way to encourage people to share about your brand, good first step. It means you are mindful of how people are sharing, and you’re laying out touch-points for your consumers to connect with. But this world moves incredibly fast, and that was good last year. If you’re using those hashtags as a way to put your brand in front of the right audience, in real-time, you’re in the lead pack of smart brands – there are few of you.
Even smarter are the brands, like Hyundai, that had the #foresight to understand that hashtags are akin to social search -- and had a plan that included hashtag targeting for the Super Bowl. A search for “Hyundai hashtag targeting” will reveal just how they’re doing it. And other brands such as Oreo and Tide even had a SWAT teams in place to build ads in real-time, based on live events. But you don’t have to do that to make hashtags work for your brand.
Back to my point about hashtag ubiquity. If you’ve known what hashtags are for a while, then you have probably noticed them plastered all over your TV screen, be it a 50-inch flat screen or three inches away from you while watching #SNL, #Greys, #Olympics. Going forward, will your digital media strategy have the power of real-time intent hashtag targeting, ensuring you are reaching your right audience at the right time? Maybe I will find out during the #Oscars.