The Lunacy of Search Term CTAs in TV Ads

Smiling salesman advertising a product at the television

TV Advertising Spend & Viewing Statistics

At the beginning of 2014, the Advertising Association announced that the UK advertising spend forecast was showing the highest year on year growth for three years. The forecast for 2014; a spend of £18.8bn, a growth of 5.3% compared to 2013.

Advertising Spend


Looking at TV advertising spend alone, a growth of 6.0% is predicted in 2014 which confirms just how popular this marketing channel is.

These increases are not surprising when you consider just how long on average people in the UK spend watching television. The latest TV viewing statistics for January 2014 showed that on average we watch television for 28 hours and 36 minutes per week. That’s a lot of TV for one person but it is a great opportunity for brands to get their offering in front of a vast number of people when they are most engaged.

Now that I have got the introduction out of the way, let me explain a little about what this post is really about.

What’s This Post About?

Over the past couple of years, many commercials have appeared on my TV at home but there is one thing that has started getting my attention more and more recently, brands directing viewers to search for a specific keyword string or hashtag at the end of their advertisement. A few years ago, I don’t think I would have thought too much into this but in 2014, I think this is a very risky call to action.

In this post, I am going to show you some examples of brands that are using both of these types of call to action, explain why I think it is a bad idea and provide a safer alternative that could be deployed instead.

Advert Commercial Examples

Before I go any further, I need you to watch at least one of these examples so you can understand exactly what I am talking about when it comes to brands inviting viewers to search for a specific keyword string at the end of the advert. You can always skip to the last frame of the ad rather than watching it entirely.


In this advert, Mercedes are promoting their new Mercedes-Benz C Class with a special offer. At the end of the advert they tell viewers to ‘Search: C Class Offers’.

British Army

The British Army have used a similar advert to the one below to promote their jobs. At the end of each advert they always conclude by saying ‘Search: Army Jobs’.

Mini Original

Out of the three examples, this one has to be the most riskiest (I will explain more a little later in this post). Mini are promoting their latest car model and at the end of the advert they instruct viewers to ‘Search: New Original’.

Generic Hashtags

The vast majority of brands are making use of the Twitter hashtag and I expect to see this continue to rise over the next couple of years. In these examples, brands are directing viewers to engage with them on a keyword specific hashtag. As with the TV adverts, if you could watch at least one of the below videos you will understand what I mean. You can always skip to the last frame of the ad rather than watching it entirely.


In this example, Coca-Cola have used the hashtag #AmericaisBeautiful at the end of the advert.

Heinz Ketchup

For this advert, Heinz have directed viewers to engage with them on Twitter using the hashtag #ifyourehappy

The Dangers of Search Keywords in Adverts

If you work in or have any involvement in the online marketing industry you will most probably have heard of the Google Penguin algorithm update. It has taken this industry by storm and in the past 18 months or so; we have seen a lot of small, medium and large brands lose some, if not all, of their search engine rankings due to being penalised as a direct result of this update.

Most people will remember the high profile Interflora penalty where shortly after Valentine’s Day they were hit with a link penalty and lost the vast majority of their keyword rankings. Not only did they lose their rankings for terms like ‘Flowers’, ‘Florist’ and ‘Flower Delivery’, they also lost their ranking for their own brand name! If you want to read more into this specific penalty, check out this post by Martin MacDonald on Web Marketing School.


This isn’t the only penalty that Google have given out over the past 18 months, there have been a lot. Only the high profile examples really appear in the industry media but there are many others being issued every day. Penalties can affect entire sites or they can be isolated to individual pages within a site.

So what has this got to do with brands telling viewers at the end of adverts to search for a specific keyword string? Well a lot actually….

You saw in the example above just how quickly Interflora got hit and lost all their rankings. Imagine if your business had just spent a vast amount of money putting together a TV commercial and you had just signed off on the final version that was being broadcast on primetime TV from tonight. At the end of the advert, you direct viewers to search on Google for a specific keyword query so they can get to your website quickly and easily. Three days later, Google hit your website with a manual link penalty! When you search for the keyword at the end of your commercial, your website is no where to be seen!

This scenario really could happen and it takes time to get the penalty reversed again. Rankings do not just come back overnight. You can always use Google AdWords to bid on the keyword string so that you do appear at the top for that term but you will be charged each time someone clicks on the ad making your overall advertising costs (TV + AdWords) much higher than you may have originally budgeted for.

Additionally, it is very difficult to dominate page one of the search results for those generic terms. Taking the Mini Original commercial shown above, the search query they told viewers to search for online was ‘New Original’. When conducting this search on Google, the first page of results are no where near dominated by Mini. As you can see from the screenshot below, seven of the listings are nothing to do with the car. This is not making good use of page one domination!

Mini Original

The Dangers of Generic Hashtags

Moving onto hashtags….

In the examples above, you can see two brands enticing engagement using very generic hashtags. After doing a search on Twitter for one of them, I can see immediately that that keyword is not just being used by people talking about the brand.

The screenshot below shows that five out of the seven hashtag uses are nothing to do with the Coca-Cola campaign.


Coca-Cola would have invested a lot into the advert with one of the end goals being to generate engagement on Twitter. By not choosing their hashtag carefully, the engagement has been diluted and in my opinion, this would not have made the campaign as successful as it could have been.

Hashtag hijacking is another problem for brands. There have been lots of posts written about this subject (a good one here). Hijacking is always going to be a problem but this would happen regardless of the hashtag that was chosen by the brand. It can be very damaging to a brand so it is important to consider all the potential outcomes before you embark on a high profile Twitter engagement campaign.

Moving Forwards

So what is the best way to minimise the risk when it comes to marketing your brand on TV? Always make sure you are using your brand name within the search query or Twitter hashtag that you are directing viewers to. It is much safer to keep your potential customers searching for a branded term rather than a generic term as you are able to have more control over the end result.

In summary, branded keywords will:

  • Allow you to dominate page one of the search results more easily
  • Allow you to bid on the keyword for cheaper traffic whilst maintaining a high quality score in your AdWords campaign
  • Allow you to potentially be the only PPC advertiser on the term if you have your brand trademarked
  • Stop the unwanted Twitter noise within your engagement campaign as tweets using the hashtag will be about you rather than something totally unrelated
  • Make it easier to remain visible if your brand ever receives a Google penalty
  • Keep your brand name in your potential customers minds

Image Credit: Bigstock

About Samantha Noble

Samantha Noble is the founder of Biddable Moments and a former editor and contributor to State of Digital.

12 thoughts on “The Lunacy of Search Term CTAs in TV Ads

  1. Great post Sam! The point about keeping any CTA branded is a really important one I think. Otherwise it’s all too easy to have your message potentially hijacked by a competitor running PPC. It’s still a risk even with a branded term, but far less likely and more difficult to do.

    I have to admit surprise though at TV spend being set to grow that much!

    1. Thanks for the comment, glad you liked the post. Hijacking via PPC is always going to be a threat but like you say, it is easier for other brands to hijack a non-branded term than it is a branded term.

      I was also surprised at the TV ad spend increase!

  2. Really good post, Sam. I believe that branded keywords are important, because it is we are advertising a brand. I can’t think about not using them. Quite a different thing is using them too much, including in anchor texts.

    Re hashtags in adverts, I am starting to get fed up with them. It was the same with QR codes a couple of years ago. Too much of something is not good.

    1. Completely agree on the hashtags being used too much in adverts. Personally I would prefer to see brands promoting their Twitter username rather than a hashtag. Surely you would get more followers as a result of that rather than pushing people to engage with a hashtag that you don’t have full control over.

  3. The concept isn’t that crazy. I’ve been seeing them in Asia for the past 3 years – and then it occurred to me. Having a digital CTA on a traditional advertising channel means that you can figure out the conversion rate of your advertising effort (provided that you don’t choose poor CTA’s like you’ve mentioned)

    Great points Samantha!

    1. Glad you liked the post Victorpan! I don’t think the actual concept is a crazy idea but I do think that using non branded keywords and hashtags is. I am all for being able to measure the conversion rate for marketing channels but using a branded keyword rather than non branded would allow this to be done much more accurately as you wouldn’t get all the added noise that isn’t necessarily relevant.

      1. Yes, the fact that the brand wasn’t already winning for those unbranded terms makes the matter worse. What if the brand is already winning on those terms though?

        They’d solidify their spot as a top-of-mind brand when it came to that category. CTR’s would be off the roof. There’s noise, but you’ve also dominated. Similar tactics have been employed by descriptive brands. It’s a strategy to be reckoned with.

        Google doesn’t have a guy monitoring TV ads to manually tag queries that are now navigational thanks to traditional advertising.

  4. I have just heard Volkswagen Vans advertising on the radio and they have directed listeners to search for ‘Working With You’. After doing this search, the only real estate Volkswagen take up is the paid advert and one natural listing half way down the page!!!

  5. Great post Sam! So glad to see someone write about this, it has been bugging me for a while! I think the B&Q ‘unloved rooms’ was the first one I spotted – they’re doing pretty well on page 1 for it though.

  6. Hi Sam, completely agree on brands using branded keywords within the query. This is something I’ve also been thinking about for a while. Natwest use this tactic and from what I remember they do use their brand generally within the search queries. They also encourage users to download their mobile app on their billboard advertising.

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