Is Trademarking Hashtags Making Social Media Anti-Social?


Will putting a trademark on hashtags restrict its ability to be successful?

In recent times, brands have increasingly been using their own bespoke hashtags to communicate with customers. As the use of hashtags becomes more common, hashtag trademark applications filed have followed suite. The words or phrases activated by the hash symbol are able to be utilised by anyone within the digital landscape, including competitors, which has prompted many brands to treat their hashtags like any other intellectual property. Competitors possess the ability to hijack the content stream linked to a specific hashtag and capitalise on its exposure to deliver their own communications, leading to many brands looking to protect their hashtags.

Hashtags can be a powerful tool for marketers to drive viral conversations with the market, and see audience reactions to the brand. Marketers can utilise the hashtags to link posts to news or current events, and provide a stepping stone to developing online communities and bring people together on a global scale. Trademarking a hashtag allows a brand to promote and license the rights to their hashtag, and allow them to utilise the phrases in other forms of marketing communications.

The practice of trademarking a hashtag may be perceived as counterintuitive and against the spirit of social media, as the success of a hashtag depends on the level of adoption within the market. However, it allows brands to ensure that any use of the brand’s hashtag within the digital landscape is without malicious intent, and will have a positive impact for the brand. Brand communities can be formed, which help strengthen the relationship between the brand and consumers without running the risk of competing brands with similar product offerings hijacking the thread to promote their own products.

Pepsi and Coca-Cola have both previously trademarked hashtags with #SayItWithPepsi and #ShareACoke respectively, to prevent other brands from capitalising on the exposure of the hashtags to sell their products. While this is not likely to result in thousands of cease and desists being issued, competing cola brands will be unable to utilise these communities to promote their own product. Trademarking of the hashtags does not restrict consumer use of the phrases, with customers still being highly encouraged to engage with the brand using the hashtags.



The trend of trademarking hashtags is likely to continue and if not grow in popularity into the future. Claiming the phrases as intellectual property of the brand and restricting the use by competing brands can impede its ability spread virally, and as such go against the grain of social media, but can help ensure positive implications for the brand when used. The ability to create online communities and provide a platform that encourages consumer engagement, while developing relationships possesses much stronger implications for a brand and their market performance.

Simon Wang
Strategy Intern 

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Image Credits: Digital Trends, Marshal Johnstonmm & Pay Com

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