London’s hosting of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games caused an inevitable deluge of sport-related advertising – whether the brands in question were ‘Official Partners of the Games’ or not. Amidst the monsoon of press ads, all featuring desaturated shots of sportspeople looking a bit too serious, I noticed something: almost all of these sport-focused brands’ expensive creations signed off with nothing more than a hashtag as a call to action.

Whether we were being told to #makeitcount by Nike, #takethestage by Adidas, #winfromwithin by Gatorade or #witnessmyrevival by Lucozade (whose revival exactly?), it was clear that it was all about the hashtag. When this dawned on me, I was – despite working in digital advertising – rather taken aback.

I know exactly how powerful Twitter can be. I know it’s the home of social conversation. I know it’s the perfect place for sports idols to connect with the people who idolize them. And I know hashtags are the best way to keep track of single topics. But like I said, I work in digital advertising.

Would Joe Bloggs, upon seeing a billboard featuring nothing more than a silhouetted beast of a man staring at the ground next to the line #witnessmyrevival, really have any inclination to log on to Twitter (assuming he knew that was what he should do with a hashtag) – then perform a search? Maybe so. Maybe not.

Of course, these urban-friendly sports brands are talking to the social media generation and encouraging conversation – so in that sense, a hashtag as a sole call to action seems somewhat acceptable.

But these brands seem to be forgetting something that seems painfully obvious. They’re asking people to tweet (a big enough deal as it is) on the topic of something they probably don’t feel strongly about – however good the product or endorsement is.

When the public are watching #towie or #madeinchelsea, they tweet using the hashtags because they want to exchange opinion on Arg’s belly or Spencer’s sleaziness. But you can safely assume that they probably don’t have much to say on the subject of #winfromwithin – because how much can you really say about an energy drink or the campaign surrounding it?

The other part of the problem, of course, is that on a press ad, the hashtag isn’t clickable. While consumers can easily make a mental note of a product’s name and Google it at a later time, it’s a lot more to ask from them to remember a generic sounding #dosportwell hashtag. And lest we forget that these hashtag phrases, appearing as one long word, can often be difficult to decipher at a quick glance.

Assuming consumers do remember the hashtag, and do remember to go onto Twitter, and do remember to search for it, what are they then expected to do? There are no instructions on these press ads as to how to join the conversation, whether you’re into taking the stage, winning from within, or just merely making it count.

To see if my conjecture could be proven in any way, I turned to Twitter and did something that I doubt many people have done – searched for these hashtags. The results were pretty predictable. Nike’s #makeitcount tag was full of joggers tweeting a pre-populated brag about ‘crushing a 10k run’ – while Adidas’ #takethestage (by now rebadged as #stagetaken) was mainly people tweeting the YouTube link to Hoy et al’s rendition of ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’. No bad thing for Adidas, but hardly a ‘conversation’ and not something to be particularly happy about, surely?

In fact, Adidas has recently trumpeted the success of #takethestage – and while they have every right to be content (despite my suspicions that the stats are skewed by consumers parroting Pendleton, Ennis, and co. throughout the Games) – you have to wonder how many of their Twitter interactions were borne out of press ads.

As for Lucozade’s #witnessmyrevival tag, it seems to be suffering a worse fate than even I expected. Bear in mind that their press ads are currently being circulated, then look at the screenshot below – and you’ll discover that typing #witnessmyrevival into Twitter and hitting ‘Enter’ only gives three results.

So while having a hashtag on a press ad is undoubtedly a nice addition, I’d argue that making it the only channel for consumers to go down is more than a bit of a risk – it’s downright stupid.

This post also appeared on The Wall and TMW’s blog.