How you can use #TBT to promote your brand

#ThrowbackThursday trends every week on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms. See how a half-dozen online entities are making the most of it, and borrow some of their techniques.

Every Thursday, on just about every social media platform you can imagine, a simple hashtag is likely to trend. That hashtag, of course, is #TBT.

According to Know Your Meme, Throwback Thursday first began to get social media traction in 2006, when a sneaker fan blog began posting vintage photos of old shoes on a weekly basis.

Most marketers probably know about Throwback Thursday because, in the last few years, just about everyone old enough to have a retro photo has posted at least one such picture on social media. The trend is so popular that Mashable published its Unofficial Guide for Throwback Thursday Etiquette.

Though most attention to Throwback Thursday focuses on personal social media accounts, the meme provides a safe and effective forum for brand managers to use, as well.


For an organization like the NBA, which owns countless hours of content, Throwback Thursday is as simple as sharing a classic photo or video and adding #TBT to the post. Most of what the NBA does is of the This Day in History variety, and that approach is ridiculously popular.


Visit the Pepsi website, and you’ll find plenty of retro content just waiting to surface on Throwback Thursday. Back in 2013, the brand even did a few then-and-now posts (here and here).

What’s really cool about Pepsi’s take on Throwback Thursday is that brand managers go retro with its products. Last year, in a move to address dropping soda sales, Pepsi decided to return to a simpler time, when sodas were made with real sugar and high fructose corn syrup was just a project in some food lab. For a time, the product was even known as Pepsi Throwback. Now, it’s simply known as “Pepsi Made With Real Sugar.”


Throwback Thursday is ostensibly about capturing a retro vibe, but the core of the trend is about the individual. After all, most #TBT posts are just old selfies. That’s something the folks at Expedia and its agency, 180LA, took to heart when they created the #ThrowMeBack campaign.

Using Instagram and Twitter, Expedia invited people to post and share their favorite vacation photos for a chance to win a travel voucher back to the very spot where the photo was taken all those years ago.

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“We all have great memories of summer vacations,” Dave Horton, creative director at 180LA told AdWeek. “So to promote the nostalgia of summer travel, we wanted to tap into the most nostalgic trend out there, #tbt.”

McDonald’s versus Taco Bell

Who says Throwback Thursday can’t be competitive? Or is it collaborative?

First, a little context. As rival fast food chains, McDonalds and Taco Bell are natural competitors, but that competition isn’t just about slinging burgers and wrapping burritos. In recent years, the two chains have gotten into a rather public and increasingly ugly marketing war, often calling out the opposing brand by name or reference in their ads.

Last April, one battle in that war was waged on the Throwback Thursday front. On its Facebook page, McDonald’s posted a picture of an Egg McMuffin with Bootsy Collins sunglasses. The caption read: “Groovin’ since ’72. You dig? #TBT #EggMcMuffin.”

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Groovin’ since ’72. You dig? #TBT #EggMcMuffin

Posted by McDonald’s on Thursday, April 3, 2014

A few days later, Taco Bell came out with a new TV ad for its waffle breakfast taco. The ad’s creative played up the idea that Taco Bell represented the future, while McDonald’s was living in the past. The tagline was: Move on from your old McDonald breakfast with Taco Bell’s exciting new breakfast menu.

The ad certainly felt like a response to the McDonald’s Throwback Thursday post, but the timing made at least one ad watcher suspicious.

“If Taco Bell and McDonald’s aren’t both in on this contrived ‘Breakfast Wars’ together, then it’s one hell of a coincidence,” Saya Weissman wrote in Digiday.


On the Levi’s website you’ll find a channel dedicated to #TBT. Part history lesson, part retro advertising display, the clothing brand’s participation in Throwback Thursday proves that mature brands always have something worth sharing.

It’s not just old pictures of Levi’s iconic advertising campaigns. What’s great about the brand’s Throwback Thursday initiative is that fans can learn about one of America’s longest-running clothing makers: Nearly every throwback post comes with a short story.

The posts run the gamut from a brief story about how Levi’s supported the Union war effort during the Civil War to a post about a jockey, his jeans and the Kentucky Derby. There’s even a classic customer complaint from a miner who, in 1917, returned his Levi’s because they hadn’t held up as well as his previous pair. As it turned out, the miner was wrong: The pants were still very much intact, but the padding he had sewn on had fallen apart.

Sizzler, sort of

If you haven’t yet feasted your eyes on this dazzling Internet treat, then you really should take four minutes and 42 seconds to watch the greatest (by which we mean “worst”) Sizzler promo video ever.

Did you get all that? Pretty spectacular, right? Like train wreck spectacular.

Was the 1991 video released for Throwback Thursday? Was it even marketing? It’s hard to say. Several news outlets tried to find out. Here’s what Kristina Van Bruggen, VP of marketing for Sizzler USA, had to say:

We’re very humbled by the thousands of wonderful posts from our customers. Sizzler is and has always been a special place for American families. We are thrilled this video is touching so many people and stirring such positive feelings about our country. Sizzle on, America, sizzle on!

Not exactly an admission, but those Sizzler people sure are glad to be back on the map, if only for a hot viral minute—or five.

Michael Estrin is a freelance writer. A version of this article first appeared on iMediaConnection.

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