Sorry, Google+ Users, Those Super Bowl Hashtags Really Were For Twitter

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Soon after our post about Twitter being referenced in 50% of Super Bowl commercials, and Google+ being shut-out, the Google+ defenders started complaining. Since Google+ supports hashtags, was our analysis biased toward Twitter? Nope, some further analysis shows.

You can see some of the complaints in the comments to our original post, and I received a few when I shared our story to Google+ yesterday. As a result of that, I started doing some counting yesterday, to see if those hashtags really were aimed at Google or not.

The 19 Brands Using Hashtags In Super Bowl Ads

There were 19 brands that used hashtags in Super Bowl commercials. Matt McGee, in his original post, considered that indicative that a brand was targeting Twitter. He also did count other things like if a Twitter logo or a Twitter account handle was also used. The brands were:

  1. Audi
  2. Best Buy
  3. Budweiser (Bud Light & Budweiser Clydesdales)
  4. Calvin Klein
  5. Cars.com
  6. Doritos
  7. Fast & Furious
  8. GoDaddy
  9. Hyundai
  10. M&Ms
  11. MiO Fit
  12. Samsung
  13. Speed Stick
  14. Subway
  15. Tide
  16. Toyota
  17. Volkswagen
  18. Wonderful Pistachios

Now, could it be that these brands put these hashtags out in hopes that they’d be used on both Twitter and Google+? I think one fair test is whether the brands themselves are on Google+.

Nearly Half Super Bowl Hashtag Advertisers MIA On Google+

Here’s the rundown. These lack any presence that I can find, either by looking for links to Google+ pages from their own web sites or by searching at Google+:

  1. Budweiser
  2. Calvin Klein
  3. Doritos
  4. Hyundai
  5. M&Ms
  6. MiO Fit
  7. Speed Stick
  8. Tide

Right there, I think it’s fair to say that about half of the hashtag usages in Super Bowl ads weren’t somehow aimed at both Google+ and Twitter. In fact, for a social network that’s supposedly now the second largest with users, it’s pretty bad that about half of these brands aren’t on Google+ at all. They consider it worthwhile to spend millions to advertise in the Super Bowl, but their marketing budgets don’t extend to cover the time to create and maintain a free account on Google+?

By the way, Hyundai Worldwide is on Google+ but Hyundai USA is not, which is who ran the Super Bowl ads. So, I’m counting Hyundai as not being on Google+. In addition, Hyundai Worldwide, while it did post during the game, never used a hashtag. There’s also a page that looks like it might be a Doritos page, but it hasn’t posted in ages and also isn’t verified.

Two Verified Brands At Google+ Have Never Used Their Accounts

Next, these brands do have accounts on Google+ but clearly weren’t using the hashtags for Google+ promotion. That’s because, despite the accounts being verified, they have no activity at all. None.

  1. Best Buy
  2. Subway

Perhaps a picture says it better. Here’s how the Best Buy account currently looks:

(7) Best Buy - Google+

Anyone feel like Best Buy using a hashtag in a Super Bowl commercial was really meant to spark hashtag-related discussion on Google+, when Best Buy isn’t even using its verified Google+ account at all? Anyone?

Brands On Google+ But Hashtagless During The Game

Next are brands that do have Google+ accounts but clearly weren’t using the hashtags in their ads to encourage Google+ discussion. Why I feel this way is explained next to each brand:

  1. Audi – it made no posts during the Super Bowl. When I looked yesterday, the last post was Feb. 1. That did have a hashtag in it, but probably because it was mostly parroting what’s happening on Audi’s far more active Twitter account.
  2. Cars.com – it made a few posts during the game but didn’t use hashtags
  3. Disney Oz — originally, I’d listed this as not being on Google+, but it was pointed out to me. It made no post during the game. The first time it ever posted using a hashtag was today, two days after the game.
  4. Volkswagen – it made a single post with no hashtag
  5. Samsung USA shared nothing during the game. Samsung Mobile USA did share exactly one post on game day, and no hashtag was used.
  6. Fast & Furious – made a few posts on game day, none had a hashtag. Bonus slam: Fast & Furious tells those on Google+ looking for more information to go to its Facebook page. See also: Why You Can’t Find The Official Fast & Furious 6 Web Site In Google & Bing

Again, I don’t come away feeling like any of these brands used hashtags in their Super Bowl ads and seriously considered that this was aimed to target discussion on Google+.

The Three Brands On Google+ That Did Post With Hashtags

That leaves the brands below that are on Google+ and which did use hashtags in their posts:

  1. GoDaddy
  2. Toyota
  3. Wonderful Pistachios

Should those three references be counted in the Google+ column? For those who really believe in Google+, sure. Perhaps that will help them ignore the fact that so many brands that advertised in the Super Bowl aren’t on Google+ at all. But I think it’s still a pretty big stretch to think these brands were thinking of Google+ right alongside Twitter by using the hashtags.

What About Instagram?

I had written most of this post on Monday and even shared some of the stats back to those who commented on our original story that day. I was going to finish it tomorrow, because I wanted time to fully look at another issue — could these brands have been aiming at Instagram?

However, I saw Bobby Grasberger’s post this evening slamming our original article as “rubbish,” since he was convinced any hashtag use is equally applicable to Google+ and Instagram, so I figured I’d get what I had finished off quickly.

The difficulty with Instagram is despite all its moves onto the web, you still can’t seem to go there and search for things, you know, like accounts. That makes it hard to find accounts that may or may not be on it, not quickly. But I gave that a shot just now quickly on my phone, to figure out which brands might be there or not. My rundown:

Yes

  1. Audi
  2. Calvin Klein
  3. Fast & Furious
  4. GoDaddy
  5. Hyundai
  6. Toyota (or maybe not; there are many Toyotas)
  7. Volkswagen
  8. Wonderful Pistachios

No

  1. Best Buy (or maybe not — there seem to be a lot of fake accounts)
  2. Budweiser/Bud Light (or maybe not, as with others, it’s hard to tell)
  3. Cars.com
  4. Disney Oz
  5. Doritos (I think — there are a lot of accounts that come up)
  6. M&Ms
  7. MiO Fit
  8. Speed Stick
  9. Samsung (or maybe not, but I’m pretty sure not)
  10. Subway (or maybe not, again, hard to tell)
  11. Tide

Now, there’s no question that hashtags are popular on Instagram. There’s definitely a valid argument that perhaps hashtags were meant to spark discussion on Instagram as well as Twitter, an argument made stronger if more of those “No” accounts really are on Instagram.

Hashtags = Twitter Buzz Seems Clear

One thing is clear. Every brand that pushed a hashtag in its Super Bowl ad did have a Twitter account. I think it’s pretty obvious those hashtags can be firmly counted as a reference to Twitter.

In contrast, a significant number of brands did not have Instagram or Google+ account. I think it’s pretty obvious this means they weren’t using them to spark much discussion on Google+. On Instagram, I suspect it’s a similar case, but until I can do more research, I’m more open to that.

I do think the hashtags were more about Twitter than Instagram for another reason. Twitter is a place for conversation. As John Gruber highlights Matthew Hunt saying:

The interesting part to me is hashtag=”you should talk about us”, vs. old “go here to see what we have to say.”

Yes, hashtags with ads seem to be about building buzz, building word-of-mouth, and Instagram isn’t word of mouth. Picture of mouth, maybe. And while hashtags could be used for word-of-mouth on Google+, I think I’ve demonstrated that the brands aren’t likely thinking of them for that usage there.

Finally, I fully expect the sometime rabid Google+ defenders to come in screaming. Don’t blame the messenger. I’m on Google+. I think the brands that are not on Google+ are stupid for a variety of reasons, including the direct traffic that Google+ can and does send to sites as well as the benefits it provides with Google search traffic.

But the fact remains that many brands clearly do ignore the social network. I’m sorry for that, but like I said, don’t blame those for reporting what’s sometimes obvious. It’s not our fault.

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About The Author

Danny Sullivan was a journalist and analyst who covered the digital and search marketing space from 1996 through 2017. He was also a cofounder of Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, MarTech Today and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo and MarTech events. He retired from journalism and Third Door Media in June 2017. You can learn more about him on his personal site & blog He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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