Hashtagging Primetime

Hashtagging Primetime

I’m sort of a TV nut. Truth be told, I probably spend too much time obsessing about my favorite shows. In my defense I can say that I’ve drummed up more than a few content ideas for this blog by feeding my TV addiction. Watching what brands do well (and do poorly) in their television marketing has sparked more than a few tirades on these pages.

Two weeks ago I was watching an episode of Fringe on Fox. In the lower right hand corner of the screen, just above the affiliates ID badge, I noticed the hashtag “#Fringe.” For those unfamiliar, a hashtag is either a community or brand driven convention labeled with a “#” meant to add additional context to tweets. While using hashtags to promote a show may not be a new concept, Fox is the first network that I’ve seen use hashtag placement on screen for the entire episode.

So, who cares right? Well, as a marketer, YOU should.


Clearly Fox understands the power of Twitter. I also appreciated the subtly of their hashtag implementation. They didn’t beat it over our heads with a big explanation or garish graphics. Instead, they figured that if you are hip to Twitter, there was no explanation needed. To those of us dialed into the social web, that makes it sorta cool.


One of the big obstacles that TV executives have been battling in recent years is the ubiquitous DVR. When people timeshift their favorite shows, they fast-forward through the advertising. That advertising is what keeps networks on the air.

I personally don’t know anyone that schedules time to watch their favorite shows when they actually air – do you? Instead, we program our season passes into our DVR and watch our faves on our own schedule. Instead of fighting that viewer shift, Fox is doing something that might actually have the power to affect real change on that behavior – they are creating a community experience around a shared passion.

Let’s use sports as an example – why do you think that DVRing sporting events hasn’t really caught on? I think it’s because sporting events are meant to be shared by a community – we feel connected to the fact that others in a relevant geographic zone are watching something at the same time that we are watching it. In fact, if you’ve logged onto Twitter or Facebook in the last week you’ve surely seen people live updating while watching the NBA playoffs. As humans, we get off on those types of shared experiences. Fox is essentially creating that type of communal event around Fringe. By creating and encouraging the use of a hashtag, they are inviting fans of the show to watch it as it airs and live tweet with millions of other enthusiasts. You can’t create that level of excitement with a timeshifted program.


There is no better way to create buzz about your shows than with strong word of mouth. NBC can (and has) shown me all the promos for “The Voice” that I can stand, but I’m way more likely to watch it if I see members of my social circle talking about it online. Traditional advertising has it’s place, but you can’t beat the trusted recommendation of your personal social graph. By creating and promoting the use of a hashtag, Fox is not only connecting enthusiasts of its shows during their airing, but also generating trending buzz on Twitter.


Would this type of campaign work on a show like NCIS or Law & Order? Doubtful. Those shows tend to skew to an older, less tech-savvy demographic. My guess is that you wouldn’t find my Dad watching either of those programs while updating his Facebook profile. The audience for Fringe on the other hand is a younger, hipper demographic and Fox is taking advantage of that enthusiasm. For the record, I’ve also seen them apply the hashtag treatment to Glee as well. You don’t get a more rabid, vocal fanbase than the “Gleeks.”


These are the types of tactics that brands don’t spend enough time thinking about. If you break this campaign down, it involved absolutely no time, resources or infrastructure on the part of Fox to implement. Hell, their graphics department didn’t even have to create a badge! All they did was type #Fringe or #Glee into the character generator and apply it to the screen. Everything else is handled by the existing Twitter platform. It doesn’t get any simpler or more cost-effective to launch a marketing initiative than that.

What other tactics have you seen that are as easily deployed ? I’d love to get your comments below.

  • Jesse Skeen

    Yet another reason why I no longer watch TV.