Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Consumerism is one of the driving forces of American society, of all society in some ways, and one of the constantly evolving aspects of consumerism is advertisement. Whether it’s promoting the new thing or keeping the old thing relevant, advertisers are always trying to be innovative, top the competition and make their thing the most recognizable and relevant thing out there. The rise of television, then internet and then smartphones has forced advertising to evolve more in most of our life times than it had in all of previous advertising eras. I think one of the biggest changes in advertising has been the demotion of function; sure you can show that a product or service works but ultimately the goal, now, is to make the idea of that specific product stick with the viewer. There’s all types of products that work, but the modern consumer seems to always want the flashiest one. Think about something like a TV, if you see two ads, one showing a TV just functioning in a living room and the other showing 50 different angles of the TV, all as it shows vivid color and imagery while a celebrity voice over explains the “ultra hi-def 4k display,” which TV are you more likely to remember when you go shopping for one?
This idea culminates with my topic today, and that’s the fall of the hashtag and my wondering what advertisers are going to do next. Advertising is an art and it takes one hell of a creative to do it and not get mowed down in the oppression of overbearing clients and big business. I think one of the most brilliant concepts of recent advertising was taking an ad, making it striking, and then slapping a hashtag on the end of it. Why? Because it forced the viewer to interact, and not only that but to then use that hashtag and create their own iteration of an ad for that thing. Whether it was good, bad, positive, or negative if your product or service had a “trending” hashtag, you were doing something right. It saved advertisers a lot of time, because the ads were developing on their own, the viewers were doing it by sharing, thus the original ad stayed relevant for longer.
But now that’s all collapsing and my prime example of this was Burger King’s failed “#eatlikeandy” campaign from this past Super Bowl. The ad was simple in recycling an old video of Andy Warhol eating a Whopper and then slapping a big “#EATLIKEANDY” at the end. The ad totally ignores the videos original meaning, we can skip over that today, and doesn’t really rebrand it so much as it just shows a polarizing figure like Andy Warhol eating Burger King products and then tossing the public a new hashtag to play with. But it didn’t work and I don’t think ads like this are going to work anymore for two reasons, one is that it’s just gotten lazy and the other being that we’re force fed so much information these days that it’s impossible to keep something that simple relevant.
Both of these factors pose difficulties for advertisers and designers but let’s tackle the easy one first, laziness. The concept of making one striking ad and then allowing the campaign to create itself through a social media frenzy, this being the hashtag of course, was brilliant and saved a lot of time and money. You didn’t need to make a long and short of 5 different advertisements anymore, you just needed something that stood out enough to get people talking about it online, and once a steady stream of people got to tweeting about it, the advertising did itself. But with ease usually comes complacency and that’s where we landed with this dogshit of an ad by Burger King during the Super Bowl. The SUPER BOWL, that’s like the advertising mecha and Burger King couldn’t put more work into an ad than that of a freshman video student who forgot his deadline.
But they didn’t need to, because it had worked for years, one big ad to spark a social media movement and the rest does itself. That leads us to problem number two and that’s just how much information and advertising is shoved down our throats every single day on all of these social medias. That was the thing a few years ago, make an ad to spark a buzz on social media, but then advertisers who weren’t getting that social media buzz just started advertising on social media, suddenly we’re seeing an ad on TV, then on our computers, then on our phones, it’s just ad, ad, ad, is there even content anymore? Think about how often you mindlessly scroll through Instagram, how often do you see an ad? A sponsored post? One account advertising another account or product? Think about all the sponsored content and advertising on Twitter and Facebook. I watched a video on Facebook the other day that was three minutes long and there was 5 ad breaks in it. Same goes for Youtube, you’re hard pressed to find a video without an ad before it, sometimes two or three, sometimes during, sometimes after. Sometimes we don’t even notice them, they’re embedded in everything, you could read this whole article and it could be an ad for something at the end, you never know. It’s impossible for something like a hashtag to survive because there’s just such an abundance of advertising and information being shoved into our dumb faces that we can’t remember anything long enough to post about it and it’s the fault of advertisers themselves. They tried to skip the middleman, being the consumer, of social media buzz and tried to spark it themselves and they in turn flooded the market.
Now, I’m not an advertiser or designer and I count my lucky stars that I’m not because it’s a struggle. You have to convey a product, and not just it’s function, you have to make it interesting enough for people to remember it and then constantly repeat it and slap them in the faces with it so they don’t forget it. We’re on the heels of an innovation with the idea of a social media ad campaigns and with that becoming a thing of the past and there’s not really a sign of new innovation. So what are the designers to do next? Is the next logical step to just play to the idea that we’re all dumb and just assault us with repetition until we’ve been bullied into buying a product? Because that’s not what advertising is about. I’m very interested to see how the ad develops over the next few years. Maybe one of YOU designers will be the next big innovator.