Happy New Year! It’s that time of year to renew our hopes and dreams for the year ahead, set ambitious fitness goals and recover from eggnog  hangovers. But it is also a time to look back and reflect on where we’ve come from. So today, Boost Media is introducing a Throwback Thursday series about new online marketing insights we can learn from advertising and internet history.


Because New Year’s Day conveniently falls on a Thursday this year, our first topic is #TBT itself. (Which is why we posted a grainy old photo from the early days when Boost operated out of an apartment. Yes, we really did have a beer can Christmas Tree!)  We know; #TBT is not very “historical.” But there is much to learn from this hashtag’s rise to fame. In just a few years, it has grown from a term people looked up on Google to an event (more like a game) that reaches millions of social media followers each week. Where did it come from? How did it go viral? How can marketers create campaigns with the stickiness and engagement of #TBT?


How did #TBT gain popularity?

According to Google Trends, people didn’t start looking up the meaning of the hashtag until early 2012, however it was around earlier. But what was the turning point that made it popular?

Google Trends #TBT

Technological “tipping point”. #TBT is generally used to refer to a photo rather than text, so it is necessary that we have a great photo sharing medium for this trend to take off. It wasn’t until 2013 that Facebook began supporting hashtags, so we can rule out Facebook’s direct impact on this trend. But then Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012, growing Instagram’s user-base substantially, thus enabling Instagram to tip the scales.


Celebrity vanity. Digital Trends proposes that the rise of #TBT had something to do with the Kardashians. It is a good theory, especially because it correlates nicely with the timing of the trend. But where did the Kardashian sisters get Throwback Thursday from in the first place?
Kardashian Tweet

Mommy bloggers. We may never know how the Kardashians learned about Throwback Thursday, but we can trace the earliest usage in social media. According to the Topsy database:

Two full years before Twitter started supporting hashtags, a cancer survivor, homeschool mom tweeted this:

First Throwback Thursday Tweet

*Although this is the earliest recorded usage in social media, Know your Meme found an earlier internet usage in this online comic strip in January of 2006.


How can marketers run campaigns that stick like #TBT?

It is not every day that slang used by homeschool moms makes it into the popular vernacular of the Kardashians and their millions of followers. There are a few takeaways for marketers from this story.

  1. Be technologically relevant. #TBT makes sense as a tagline for photographs more than text. Not surprisingly, the popularity of the hashtag spread when Instagram became the primary platform for photo sharing. What mediums, sharing mechanisms, device trends and other technological factors can you leverage today?
  2. Know your audience. People are vain. We want to share our adorable and embarrassing baby photos; especially celebrities. Give the people what they want and we will hashtag and share prolifically. Think about what your audience wants. Do they want to be entertained while waiting for the bus? Do they want interesting facts to share with friends at dinner?
  3. Use short, catchy creative. “Throwback Thursday” is short, clear and has a nice alliteration. In just two words, it communicates the topic and invites the audience to participate. #TBT is ideal for our increasingly mobile-driven world filled with tiny typing. “Throwback Thursday” is so catchy that there have been people trying to copy it by using “Flashback Friday” and “Wayback Wednesday.” You know something has made it big on the internet when parodies and spin-offs emerge. Ask yourself: is your creative so engaging that others might want to copy it?

We can’t always count on a celebrity to popularize marketing taglines. But we can develop copy and creative so clear and compelling that its catchiness is inevitable, like #TBT.

Tune in next Thursday for another modern lesson from our advertising and internet past!