Brand #fails or #wins?: From Lotto to Asda, ad hashtags come under the spotlight

Lotto: ad uses #pleasenotthem hashtag
Lotto: ad uses #pleasenotthem hashtag

The use of a hashtag alongside an ad campaign is now standard practice for marketers, but are consumers actually engaging with them? Steve Sponder, managing director of content marketing agency Headstream, investigates.

The humble hashtag has become obligatory for any self-respecting above-the-line campaign. The call to action that drives people from broadcast media to join the conversation on the social web is just too attractive for brand advertisers to miss out on.

However, how much thought is put into the user journey for these media-bridging campaigns? Does the big idea really translate into a bigger experience for the consumer or are people left feeling a little dazed and confused?

We wanted to find out by putting ourselves in the shoes of the consumer – and acting on the hashtag call-to-action from five recent ad campaigns to see what we would find.

After seeing the advert we reached for our mobile, searched for the hashtag in Google, Facebook and Twitter and then spent around five minutes following the top results. Here’s what we found:


Brand: Halfords

Hashtag: #getthatfeeling

Searching for #getthatfeeling resulted in opportunities to watch Halfords’ TV ad again as it was re-published and promoted on the brand’s blog and social accounts. Apart from a competition being promoted on the brand’s blog and Twitter feed, there was no obvious online element to this campaign.

A great emotive ad with an action-oriented hashtag should have provided bags of opportunity to build on this campaign online, and specifically in social. However, there was no real payback for following the hashtag – and although there was a healthy amount of positive conversation on Twitter about the ad itself, the brand didn’t actively engage in these conversations - which seemed like a missed opportunity.

Score: 2/5


Brand: Lotto

Hashtag: #pleasenotthem

Ads featuring celebs whose tweets form part of the campaign is always going to be a good start. Furthermore, apparently this campaign broke on Piers Morgan’s Twitter feed so the it was certainly considered online from the get-go.

Our search results for #pleasenotthem delivers some of the tweets from the celebs plus an opportunity to watch some extended versions of the adverts. However, the majority of results are actually trade press talking about how good the campaign was. Although comforting to the brand manager who commissioned the ad, it does little to satisfy the consumers’ piqued interest in the advert.

Like Halfords, the Lotto campaign has resulted in a fair number of people using the hashtag on Twitter to comment on the advert but, again like Halfords, there’s no active contribution from the brand.

Score: 3/5


Brand: Nationwide

Hashtag: #livingonyourside

After searching for Nationwide’s hashtag #livingonyourside we are presented with links to view the ad, a competition and lots of discussion on social media about the ad.

This ad seemed to polarise opinion online, with people either loving or hating it. Either way the brand’s Twitter team was happy to get involved in the conversation, ensuring some element of continuity with the ads.

The planned online element of this campaign appeared to be a competition in the form of a UGC mechanic; another tactic which is becoming as obligatory as the hashtag.

As a consumer searching for #livingonyourside and coming across the ad (again), some views of other people on the meaning of the ad and a competition asking for a picture of one of my special possessions, I’m not sure it was a good use of five minutes of my time.

Score: 2/5


Brand: Asda

Hashtag: #pockettap

The recent revamp of the Asda brand has created a more energetic and engaging creative territory; one that has been fulfilled by the content of the ads themselves, but fails to be followed up on digital. In truth, the content of the ads themselves give no indication to consumers what the brand is expecting people to use the hashtag for. Instead, it seems like a poorly considered afterthought in an attempt to appear relevant; there is little consideration as to what a digital extension to the TV ad might look like.

When you follow the hashtag through to digital you also find a number of different campaigns using separate hashtags such as #asdahalloween, which leads to a lack of coherence. There is also some conversation around the popular music track used in the ad, but again it seems unrelated to the hashtag itself.

Score: 1/5


Brand: Freeview TV

Hashtag: setyourselffree

Freeview has taken some time to consider how it can reward consumers for investigating the hashtag beyond the TV ad. On each platform there is content for users to engage with, optimised for each channel, but it is clear that the overall campaign fits neatly together. The dedicated microsite for the ad features the most bespoke content, but the social channels provide an excellent place to encourage real conversations with consumers.

The only drawback for this campaign is that the slightly generic phrase chosen calls back a number of unrelated conversations across social platforms. Otherwise, there is a clear and consistent digital backdrop to the ABL activity.

Score: 4/5

Obviously, these are all great brand advertising campaigns that do their primary job of stopping people in their tracks and grabbing their attention.

But the question remains, is it a good idea to use hashtags to prompt consumers to go online and explore further? Absolutely. Are brands successfully using hashtags to bridge the gap between advert and search results? Absolutely not.

Planning for online content which builds upon the campaign’s concept, while at the same time moving that interested person further along the consumer decision journey, is no longer a nice to have. The truth is, that it’s a critical part of any self-respecting above-the-line campaign.

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