coca-cola #makeithappy
An untwitting tech about to #makeithappy in Coca-Cola's hit Superbowl ad

Super Bowl Ad Branded Hashtags: Who Won and Who Lost

The Super Bowl is a huge marketing event, with half of the 120-million-viewer audience tuning in for the ads. As marketers have increasingly recognized the importance of social media to amplify the reach of their pricey spots, the past few years have seen the rise of the Super Bowl ad hashtag.

This year 50% of the ads promoted a new branded hashtag intended to drive the conversation online. Some were more successful than others, providing valuable dos and don’ts for social media marketers using branded hashtags. Here are our takeaways from three notable campaigns:

The Power of Positivity: Coca-Cola’s #MakeItHappy

Coca-Cola’s hit #MakeItHappy campaign was the only ad this year to make social media a core part of the concept, not just another channel. In fact, the spot is about social media.

Opening with a montage of internet hate, it then shows a guy spilling a Coke on a server. The Coke-ified server starts transforming the negativity, making the internet happy. So a young boy on a bus watches a message on his smartphone change from “No one likes U,” to “There’s no one like U.”

The campaign gets three important things right. First, it’s happy—that alone goes a long way. As former professor of psychology Lee Frederiksen recently explained on the Hootsuite Blog, social media marketers should “focus on sharing content and using language that’s positive.”

make it happy sentimentSecond, the clever hashtag is both descriptive and specific to the campaign. The microsite will actually “happify” any Tweet the user selects, so the hashtag functions as a call to action. What about some of the other options? They could have done #Happy, but that’s way too general—the campaign would get lost in the noise. What about #cokehappy? It’s specific and branded, but it’s too ad-like—the brand might detract from the surprise-and-delight effect. If you’re trying to figure out your next hashtag, consider a research tool like Rite Tag.—it helps determine volume and competitiveness.

Third: timing and planning. The campaign was planned and executed in advance, so it already had some earned media and momentum on game day. This is an example of a great nose-to-tail digital campaign.

Using the uberVU via Hootsuite analytics platform, we measured the campaign’s reach and sentiment. With 162,000 mentions of the hashtag since game time, a 33% positive sentiment score and over 6 billion impressions, it was among the top-performing campaigns on social.

Try Our Super Bowl Branded Hashtags Quiz

hootsuite hashtag quizA 30-second spot on NBC this year is estimated to have cost $4.5 million, which is a lot more than most marketers will ever spend to promote a hashtag. (In fact, these ads cost more than most annual marketing budgets!) But that doesn’t mean it was money well spent. The first problem with many of the hashtags we saw Sunday is that the brand connection wasn’t always clear.

To the right are the hashtags promoted by 10 of the most popular ads that aired during NBC’s US Super Bowl coverage. Test yourself: can you match the brand on the left with the hashtag on the right?


One of the most successful ads of the night on social, boasting more than 500,000 YouTube views in its first 24 hours, was #FirstDraftEver by Avocados from Mexico. Produced by Austin-based creative agency, GSDM, the spot imagines a football-style draft at the beginning of time, with nations choosing species.

The #FirstDraftEver campaign achieved what every brand hopes to with a new hashtag: the audience picked it up and ran with it. In the first 24 hours, #FirstDraftEver had approximately 25,000 mentions, according to Hootsuite Analytics . Twitter users were cracking jokes about what animal their country would have chosen if the Book of Genesis contained a draft scene. The only problem is that many of the early Tweets didn’t mention the brand.

While the campaign is undeniably a success in terms of reach, it’s possible the brand’s message about the virtues of  a specific fruit from a specific place may have been lost in the fun.

KISS: Nissan’s #WithDad

An important rule for branded hashtags, and really marketing in general, is the classic KISS principle: keep it simple, stupid. The Coke campaign is perfectly KISS, despite its sophisticated execution and inter-channel moving parts. (The internet is full of unhappy things; let’s make more happy things.) Nissan’s Super Bowl ad, while smart, may have been a bit too smart. It expects too much from the viewer to achieve great reach. Set to the 1974 folk hit Cat’s in the Cradle by Harry Chapin, the spot follows a race car driver as he battles his competitors on the track in various Nissan vehicles. The story spans a decade or so and shows his son growing up as his wife anxiously watches him race on TV. At the end, he unexpectedly shows up in a new Nissan Maxima for some quality time with his daughter. So here’s the idea: 1) the ad is about a dad, 2) you might be watching the game with your dad, 3) Cat’s in Cradle got you all weepy and you would like your friends to know that you love your dad, 4) you understand that the hashtag at the end of the ad is about the first three things, so 5) you use the hashtag to Tweet something like this:

A bit of a stretch, right? Maybe they overthought it. Here’s how the campaign performed, again using uberVU:

#WithDad has brought in 8,326 mentions and 67M impressions since game time. So while the mentions are low, they’ve made an impact on social with impressive exposure. Clearly some heavy hitters, such as online news sites and the brand itself, are driving the conversation around the hashtag. And it looks like the father/daughter theme of the commercial helped encourage more social conversations from women as the hashtag’s gender distribution was 64% male to 36% female. Nissan’s typically sees about a 75% to 25% male to female ratio.

To find out what made the biggest impact for the branded hashtag, we took a look at its conversation map from the uberVU via Hootsuite platform, which displays the most-talked about topics in relation to a specific keyword or phrase—in this case “#WithDad.”

#withdad ubervu conversation map

The great news for Nissan is that while the hashtag saw minimal mentions, people who did talk about it clearly connected the hashtag to the brand with both “Nissan” and “NISMO,” (the company’s racing division), being used enough alongside the hashtag in social conversations to rank as a hot topic. More good news for Nissan? “Love” and “great” both rank on the brand’s conversation map.

When we think about social media marketing for major events, the emphasis is often on real-time marketing. This is especially true of the Super Bowl because Oreo’s famous “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark” Tweet during the 2013 game, which pretty much defined the genre. This year, brands were staffing “war rooms” in anticipation of the next big real-time opportunity. In the end, though, Coca-Cola’s advance planning for the social media dimension of their campaign—including a smart branded hashtag—won the day.

If you’re still stumped on our quiz, highlight the text in this table for the answers:

Microsoft #empowering
Bud light #upforwhatever
Loctite #winatglue
Mophie #staypowerful
Avocados from Mexico #firstdraftever
Toyota #oneboldchoice
Dove #realstrenght
Coke #makeithappy
Nissan #withdad
Always #likeagirl