New Twitter ad product billed a 'game-changer'

The medium is continuing to test its commercial viability through the launch of 'keyword targeting'. By Alasdair Reid.

Oreo: real-time Twitter campaign responded to the third-quarter blackout at this year’s Super Bowl
Oreo: real-time Twitter campaign responded to the third-quarter blackout at this year’s Super Bowl

Twitter was busy last week: it launched a new advertising product, "keyword targeting"; hosted a London seminar for advertisers at the Tate Modern on the South Bank; and, just for good measure, also unveiled a music service, Twitter Music.

But for agencies, keyword targeting is undoubtedly the most significant development. Early indications are that this will be of genuine interest to a wide range of clients; and the social media specialist TBG Digital – which claims to be the largest Twitter agency globally – went so far as to call it, yes, a "game-changer".

"That’s particularly the case for direct response adver­tisers interested in online acquisition," Simon Spaull, TBG’s chief revenue officer, says. "Previously, that was hard to do on Twitter. If you’re marketing, say, a credit card, you have to accept that people aren’t [necessarily] on Twitter to find a new credit card. Now you can target people in a relevant [mindset]."

Before the launch of the new system, targeting on Twitter was based on interest profiles compiled from an analysis of the types of people each user follows. Now, a brand can serve Twitter ads into the timelines of people chatting about matters relevant to their business.

In effect, it’s an attempt to let advertisers routinely achieve a little of what Oreo accomplished at the Super Bowl this year, in what was the most famous Twitter advertising initiative to date.

Within four minutes of the power failing during the third quarter of the big game in the New Orleans Superdome, Oreo launched a Twitter campaign reminding people that: "You can still dunk in the dark." It turned out to be the marketing coup of the night, with tens of thousands of people retweeting it.

It goes almost without saying, though, that keyword targeting will have to be managed artfully. "The applications are endless," Andrew Jennings, the social director at Socialyse, argues. "I for one am excited about testing this with some of our socially successful clients. But [we will be] wary of the potential to be slightly too on the mark – as advertisers, we need to be careful we don’t become too Big Brother."

This certainly maintains Twitter’s momentum on the ad front. In February, it launched its advertising API (application programming interface), making it easier for advertisers to integrate Twitter work into wider campaigns; and at the end of March, it forecast that it would take $582 million in revenues in 2013, rising to $1 billion in 2014.

And it’s also interesting to see the company beginning to address questions of effectiveness. Any grumbles about Twitter in recent months have been precisely on this front.

But it made a good start last week when it unveiled a study from Deloitte highlighting how positive Tweets about a brand can directly drive sales. Its conclusions chime with a smaller study by TBG that shows that, though the effects aren’t always instantly apparent in terms of immediate clicks, Twitter activity produces tangible sales results.

It all helps to contribute to a growing feeling that Twitter has crossed an important threshold in recent weeks, with the formations of some really interesting commercial propositions.

Twitter is a unique communication platform and any commercial possibilities will need to be similarly bespoke. Video will no doubt play a major part in its journey too, whether six seconds or beyond. As Spaull notes, the site is moving at such a fast pace and it continues to "offer something that’s totally different to anything else out there".

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