By: Dr. Perry D. Drake
Every year for the past 6 years, I have had my digital marketing students at the University of Missouri – St. Louis do an assessment of the Super Bowl ads regarding their use of hashtags, social media icons and URL’s to help drive a conversation. This year, my students and I were shocked to see virtually no advertiser using hashtags.
Peak usage of hashtags in Super Bowl ads was 57% in 2014 according to Marketingland. Since that year, it has been in decline every year. In 2015, 2016, 2017 usage of hashtags in Super Bowl ads were 50%, 45%, and 30% respectively based on another report by Marketingland.
So why has hashtag usage in Super Bowl ads slipped to virtually none in 2019? Are they just not effective any longer? To prove or disprove this point I decided to examine brand mentions for the top five brands from 2018 and compare that to the top five brands from 2019.
For 2018, we can see in the graphic below, Avocados from Mexico had the most mentions during the Superbowl at 137,000, followed by Pepsi at 38,000 according to Salesforce. And, all five of the top brands used hashtags within their ads. In addition, we should keep in mind this is not really reflective of the true reach which could easily be in the millions for some brands depending on the influence and reach of those that used the hashtags within their posts.
2018 Social Media Mentions, Top 5 Brands (Salesforce.com)
For 2019, virtually no brands used hashtags within their ads. They all had campaign hashtags in play but were only using them in their social media posts. The top five most mentioned brands on social media during the Super Bowl according to Salesforce are shown below. None of the top five used hashtags upon my examination of their ads. And, as a result, we can definitely see much fewer mentions than the prior year.
2019 Social Media Mentions, Top 5 Brands (Salesforce.com)
This year the most mentioned brand was Bud Light at only 31,500 in comparison to the top brand in 2018 (Avocados from Mexico) at 137,000 mentions. A significant difference to say the least.
My students this semester thought that the Pepsi “More than OK” campaign was one of the best executed across the digital channels but felt they missed out on additional reach and exposure by not having the “morethanok” hashtag appear on the TV ad. They also felt that Pepsi missed out by not driving those not familiar with their abundance of fun social media content to their social media channels.
They also felt the Doritos “NowItsHot” campaign was a hit given how they ensured a large audience by mashing up Chance the Rapper with the Backstreet Boys. This is a great way to grab the attention of the broadest audience possible across generations. But they thought the hashtag strategy was a bit weak. Engagement could have been centered around how we eat the Flamin’ Hot Nacho flavor or asking us if we prefer hot or regular.
So why did almost every advertiser not use a hashtag in 2019? Why would you not toss your campaign hashtag (or a new one) at the end of your ad? Why would you not want to drive significant conversation around your brand at a time when it will be seen by 103 million viewers? The benefit of a hashtag is to help evoke conversation and extend your voice around an event, cause, emotion and in that moment. Why would you not want to do extend your reach? It seems crazy to me!
So what happened? Given recent marketing missteps by various brands like Dove and H&M and others were advertisers afraid this year of making a misstep themselves in front of such a big audience. Were they all just playing it safe? Did they lack the resources to monitor the conversation? Not even Anheuser Busch, which had the ever popular #DillyDilly last year, used any this year. I am anxious to see what 2020 brings us, or should I say doesn’t bring us.