Tide turning on domains versus hashtags?

When hashtags first came onto most people’s radars five years ago, Marketing Land began tracking their use as calls to action in Super Bowl television ads. Starting in 2014, they also started charting hashtag use versus domains. This hashtag-to-domain metric is a handy analog for where big brands want to engage with their customers: on their social media platforms or their websites. Every year since, hashtag use has outpaced domains, that is, until this year’s Super Bowl.

For the first time in the #Hashtag Bowl’s six-year history, more Super Bowl ads included a domain name (39%) than a hashtag (30%). Happily, this included a new gTLD for an upcoming feature film (Logan.MOVIE), as well as several spots for companies that keep domain names at the top of mind, like GoDaddy, Squarespace, and Wix. But the big headline being shared around the domain industry is clearly that domain names came out on top.

There could be a couple of reasons for hashtags’ erosion as a CTA. For better or worse, hashtags are most closely associated with Twitter, which has seen slowed growth for some time. As Twitter loses the luster of the in-fashion social network, brands likely see less reason to use hashtags for their biggest advertising event of the year.

Still, the other side of the equation may actually be the bigger cause of the hashtag’s decline. Domain names are the real estate of the digital world. They are comparatively permanent calls to action, while hashtags are—by design—fleeting and temporary. Even a killer hashtag usually has a lifespan of just a few hours or days. Domains can drive engagement indefinitely.

Marketers and brands see domains as the steadier investment, which seems to mirror their use in Super Bowl ads since 2014, sticking within a 35-45% range. Hashtags have been much more volatile. Some brands are also seeing benefits from using both. This year, for instance, some ads which only included a hashtag, such as Avocados from Mexico (#AvoSecrets), had also set up the exact-match domain (AvoSecrets.com) to go to their desired website.

Though this is still a small sample size to declare the ascendency of domains, it’s notable that the hashtag has declined in use every year since its peak, now sitting at nearly half of what it was in 2014. This fits with the narrative we’ve been telling all along, particularly with domain extensions like .SOCIAL and .LIVE: Social networks will fall in and out of fashion, but domains are still the trusted, recognizable call to action that people return to year in and year out.

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