Marketers Ponder the Worth of Twitter's Ads

  |  July 20, 2010   |  Comments

In the last three months, the micro-blogging site has introduced Promoted Tweets and Promoted Trends to monetize traffic. But are advertisers getting a good bang for their buck?

Marketing industry watchers have been quick to tweet about Twitter ad sightings during recent mornings when they've spotted either a "Promoted Tweet" or "Promoted Trend." Big brands like Disney, Sony, cable TV channel TNT, Nike, and Starbucks are among those to have tested the formats.

But, what about the 105 million consumers who use Twitter? Are they noticing those ads? Results from a consumer panel will likely someday shed light on that question. Until then, it's fair game to wonder how the ads are performing.

"I hope Twitter is doing research because I am definitely curious," said Ian Shafer, CEO of social media agency Deep Focus. "I am sure right now there is a big early adapter discount going on with that program because no one knows [exactly] what it does."

Schafer added that there is an inherent social media risk involved with the ad buys. He pointed to the example of a Promoted Trend campaign for the TV show "Hawthorne" by TNT in late June. As reported by social media blogger Alex Schleber, the Twitter account for the show's star Jada Pinkett-Smith was included in the campaign, although the account hadn't been updated for months. A stream of negative comments ensued about that particular oversight and about the TV show in general.

"You don't want to pay for negative commentary," Shafer said. "Because it is social media, people sometimes walk into it with cold feet. But at the end of the day, they ultimately are going to have to get comfortable because their brand is what people say it is - not what the brand thinks it is."

Twitter and advertisers have kept pricing information close to the vest. Many brands that have appeared on Promoted Trends have been movies like Disney's "Despicable Me" (image lower right) and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and Sony's "The Social Network." Shafer said that associating one's brand with the hot topics of the day will likely continue to attract advertisers.

despicable.jpg "Everyone feels like they need to see that movie so they can talk about it on Monday," he said. "And Twitter is everybody's Monday. Every day is Monday for Twitter in a good way because it's the first place where people go to get a pulse for others."

Dave Evans is a consultant with 2020Social, the author of "Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day," and a ClickZ columnist. While he for the most part seemed to agree with Shafer, Evans also wondered about the long-term viability of the formats.

"My personal opinion is that these ads will work in the short term because some marketers will buy them," the India-based Evans wrote in an e-mail to ClickZ. "The idea of 'appearing in Twitter...' will be appealing, just as 'appearing in the Super Bowl...' is appealing. At the same time, other brands will recognize that consumers are increasingly ignoring these ads, so the actual utility is questionable."

While data from Promoted Tweets and Promoted Trends hasn't been made public, the box office performance by Disney's "Despicable Me" suggests that the Promoted Trend it purchased two weeks ago certainly didn't hurt matters. The animated movie was the No. 1 box office grosser with $60.1 million in ticket sales for its opening weekend in the days after its paid Twitter appearance.

Like Other Ad Platforms, Twitter Success Depends on Landing Pages

To be clear on terminology, Promoted Tweets are the original Twitter ad format, having been introduced in April. They appear in Twitter search results, targeted to keywords. For instance, in Starbucks' recent campaign, search queries for "Starbucks" and "coffee" produced a brand appearance at the very top of the results.

Promoted Trends, meanwhile, came into play last month and entail an all-day listing at the bottom of a list of worldwide trending topics on each user's Twitter homepage. Clicking through the Promoted Trend buttons takes a user to a search results page with the brand's tweet at the top. Links to landing pages are typically incorporated in the tweet. For instance, Disney linked to a tickets page with a discount code while pushing "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" on the micro-blogging site.

Sarah Worsham, CEO of Sazbean Consulting, suggested that Disney's direct marketing-style approach was probably a smart way to optimize ad spend on Twitter. "Verticals where a consumer can purchase or give you a direct response online would be best for these types of ads - meaning a consumer can buy directly from your website or can download a coupon or [allow marketers] some other way to collect leads and measure conversion."

Follow Christopher Heine on Twitter at @ChrisClickZ.

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Christopher Heine

Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.

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