$4 Million for 30 Seconds — Will Brands Continue Scoring with #Hashtags After the Big Game?

Yes, the Super Bowl — the marketing event of the year — is upon us, and those involved in brand marketing will be looking forward to the intensive post-game analysis of Super Bowl brand campaigns with as much interest as football fans look forward to the post-game analysis of the game itself. We can expect the big-hitting brands taking the $4 million/30-second challenge will likely match up with the ones we see most every year: Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo, Ford, Coca-Cola, Audi, etc.

For brand watchers, the Super Bowl reflects a fascinating point in time for marketing trends each year. A few days after the 2013 Super Bowl, Jeremiah Owyang did an analysis of social media integration into Super Bowl ads. One fact jumped out — the inclusion of the hashtag, which appeared in more than half the 2013 TV ads. At the time, Owyang indicated that these hashtags were “presumably” aimed at Twitter, which definitely was the case for the 2013 Super Bowl. Back then, even Facebook didn’t support hashtags. That’s all changed now.

Why? Because for the past 12 months we’ve been hearing about how hashtags have become the unifying conversational force in an increasingly fragmented social world. Brands can now promote a hashtag, knowing that a fan’s participation in passing along that hashtag can happen wherever the fan likes to hang out — not only on Twitter, but also on Instagram, Google+, Facebook, Vine, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, and more.

But this poses one question. How valuable is that hashtag brand mention if it’s part of something irrelevant to the brand, or only of passing, temporary interest? Some brands took this issue on at last year’s Super Bowl, and went beyond looking for a passing brand mention to asking audiences to contribute something more of themselves.

Budweiser’s #Clydesdales commercial achieved a good share of the social conversation, and tugged on quite a few heartstrings, with their call to action to name a cute foal reported as the most tweeted hashtag during the 2013 Super Bowl.

Oreo stole the Super Bowl spotlight in a variety of ways, one of which was with their “Cookies vs. Creme” Instagram photo campaign from Wieden & Kennedy, a campaign that launched their Instagram presence. The campaign asked fans to post a photograph (any photograph) to Instagram and hashtag it with either #cookiethis or #cremethis. A team of artists took a small selection from the more than 37,000 photos submitted and turned them into sculptures using Oreo cookies or creme as the medium.

Wonderful Pistachios embraced popular culture, drafting off the (then) feverish fascination for Psy to push brand mentions for its #crackinstyle campaign. Their TV ad — which got millions of views on YouTube — closed with the #crackinstyle hashtag, and in combination the brand ran a contest that asked fans to submit #crackinstyle photos for the chance to win $10,000.

We should expect to see more of these kinds of hashtag-powered cross-social calls to action at this year’s Super Bowl, and beyond into 2014. Particularly for brands that inspire a passion and emotion in their followers, it’s a great fit. Using hashtags to crowdsource content is incredibly powerful, because it means that literally anyone can participate anywhere. And brands get something in return, too — inspiring, fan-created content that aligns with their brand that they can call out and share, too.

Look what happens when fans “spontaneously” tag great content with a brand name, just because they love that brand. A glance through the #MercedesBenz hash-tagged content on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Tumblr shows us what happens when fans get brand-hashtagging. Some content may be repeated, and some is obviously people “riding the hashtag” in the hopes that their random photo will show up on people’s feeds, but it all shows the great potential for using hashtags as a source of inspiring content that can appear everywhere.

This is all good news for brands in 2014. But wait, there’s one additional benefit — the post-game conversation. Brands may invest millions in their Super Bowl TV moment, but they’ll still need to keep the conversation going after the event is over. If brands invest in a call to action, using hashtags, or any other method, they shouldn’t miss the opportunity to leverage the best of that content long after the tie-in event has scrolled off our screens, and our memories. Because that’s what the most valuable social engagement is all about. Kicking off the conversation, and then keeping it going.

*ClickZ will be covering the Super Bowl live on Sunday, Feb 2. Stay tuned for updates as they happen and follow our tweetboard for tweets in real-time!

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