Should brands advertise in Twitter streams?

LONDON - Brands can insert ads into Twitter streams, but experts warn there are risks.


When US rock star John Mayer - better known as Jennifer Aniston's ex - recently advertised Campbell's Steak and Potato soup on his twitter feed, he was deluged with criticism from followers.

While the post: ‘Guys, I just had an amazing soup by Campbell's' was later dismissed as ‘an interesting social study' by Mayer who subsequently called out the Associated Press for calling his publicist to comment on it - the saga raises an interesting dilemma for marketers and Twitters alike.

There is little doubt that a huge amount of product placement - paid for or not -already goes on Twitter. The PR industry - particularly in the games industry - has quickly cottoned on to this and games are swiftly dispatched to journalists and bloggers with a substantial following.

However, formalising these advertising relationships is a tricky balance. Advertising networks already exist on Twitter - such as Magpie and adCause.  Andrew Arnett, founder of adCause, says that the while the venture obviously wants to break even the key aim is to raise money for charitable causes. According to Arnett, adCause gives publishers control over both the type and volume of advertising appearing on their feed.

There is no doubt it's a challenging market: ‘There are lots of brands wanting to get on twitter but they are worried about the potential backlash,' he says. In contrast publishers have fewer scruples - while no major publishing power-house has signed up to the service there has been a huge interest amongst the twitterverse in general - with users with between 5 and 25,000 followers signing up to publish ads in their feed.

However, Robin Grant, the managing director of social media agency We Are Social, warns against brands jumping in feet first. ‘Twitter is all about conversations and what these ad networks are trying to do is insert ads into that conversation stream which is inherently inappropriate,' he says adding he won't be advising any clients to advertise within Twitter streams.

If these advertising networks do take off another issue arises - namely the fact that users will be subjected to multiple advertisements which could put them off following major publishers or celebrities or using Twitter altogether.

Fundamentally many of the most followed Twitter feeds - from Britney Spears to CNN - are already using Twitter as a marketing tool to market their products or drive traffic to their websites. Whether publishers can extend this relationship with their followers to other brands - without creating a substantial backlash is debatable?

Next week: Dogs with Blogs - we look at which brands are on Twitter and ask which ones are actually worth following.