Using Hashtags in Outdoor Advertising

When it comes to online communication, the hashtag has become the central organising principle of our online age.

Take Twitter’s award-winning 2016 Outdoor campaign which saw copyless billboards featuring iconic images from the news alongside the instantly recognisable hashtag symbol.

Twitter's 2016 OOH campaign Clinton v Trump

This campaign brought home the point that our offline world is only ever a few clicks away from the world of instant online communication and underscored the iconic nature of the symbol.

Twitter using hashtags in outdoor advertising campaign 2016

The fascinating appeal of Outdoor advertising today is that it is no longer simply a standalone medium (if it ever was).

It is a medium that is crying out to be linked up to our online discussions.

The genius of a hashtag is that it can be incorporated with existing copy.

Using hashtags in outdoor advertising can eliminate the need for punctuation in copy

Take this #teamadidas billboard for example. This is the only copy on the billboard. The presence of the hashtag prepares us to read a solid block of text as we could a sentence. The end result is that we pay more attention to the phrase ‘team Adidas’ because we have learned to read the copy in hashtags as a distinct phrase.

adidas using hashtags in outdoor advertising

Hashtags create a distinct visual effect

Make use of this in your Outdoor campaigns, like the Adidas example. Designers will love the fact it frees up space, and the hashtag functions simultaneously as a URL, curator of Adidas related content, and brand message all in one.

Think of hashtags as an extension of your branding

Kit-Kat’s #mybreak hashtag is a simple reference to their famous “have a break, have a Kit-Kat” slogan.

The hashtag is a way of turning a unidirectional Outdoor ad into an interactive, discursive medium

It transforms the prescriptive nature of the “have a break” concept into an opportunity for self expression in which consumers can communicate how they spend their down time.

The holy grail of hashtag advertising is to get real people to use your hashtag. Not all brands manage to pull this off. But when it works, it really works as Kit-Kat have shown.

#handlewithcare: make sure your hashtags are fit for purpose

There’s nothing worse than non-hashtag users trying to use hashtags. Make sure that you put a lot of thought into your hashtag design and get someone with social media savvy to look it over first.

Don’t use a hashtag that is used somewhere else on the internet

The point of a hashtag is to create a distinct channel of communication where all discussion about your brand can be found; you don’t want other brands or topics entering your territory.

Don’t use a hashtag that can be abused

Quantus really set themselves up for failure with their #QuantusLuxury tag. On the face of it, this is a good piece of copy. But airlines are a bit like estate agents; they easily evoke outrage.

So when designing a hashtag, think about the kind of market your brand exists in. Is the hashtag appropriate for your industry? Can it be used by disgruntled customers to subvert your brand? Of course, there’s a degree of risk with every campaign and you can’t please all the people all the time; but it’s about making sure you’ve done your research before you go in to a campaign with a hashtag that’s not fit for purpose.


When creating a hashtag think about how you want audiences to use the tag. Will they be using it to discover more information about your brand? Perhaps you’re using it to launch a new product or promote a special offer. This will incentivise people to get on social media and plug in your hashtag.

Or do you want audiences to give you free publicity by using your tag in their own content? If that’s the case your Outdoor ad should make it clear how the hashtag is to be used. The Kit-Kat ad is a good example of this.

This North American campaign encouraged users to share photos of their Thanksgiving experiences and share them on social media with the #ThankfulThisHoliday hashtag. The user-generated images then featured in a series of digital Outdoor creatives.

Of course this is at the more extreme end of hashtag use. The great thing about hashtags is that their use can be large or small, central to your creative, or as a handy organisational function… or all of the above.


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