Is Twitter right to force ads on its users?


By The Drum Team, Editorial

March 2, 2012 | 4 min read

Mark Slade, managing director of 4th Screen Advertising, questions the validity of Twitter’s decision to bring ‘Promoted Tweets' within its mobile applications.

This week Twitter released details of the latest phase in its lacklustre ‘Promoted Tweets’ monetisation strategy, forewarning users of its IOS and Android mobile apps to expect ad messages to appear in their timelines soon.

Brands have been able to advertise using Twitter’s ‘Promoted Tweets’ service since 2006. However, where ads used to only appear at the top of the mobile browser, app users will soon find these ad messages appearing throughout their timeline, whether they like it or not.

Twitter has been a free to use service since launch, but with a user base of 350m, it’s only reasonable that the social networking giant should be able to monetise that success.

However, invading the personal communications stream of its users takes a highly targeted approach, where the value exchange must be pitched just right to avoid irritating or even alienating users.

As it stands, users will only be exposed to ad messages from those brands which they have already chosen to follow, so the onus to provide value falls on the advertisers. This value can be achieved in a number of ways such as offer discounts, vouchers or exclusive content.

From late March, Twitter will be rolling out its own self-service platform to advertisers, so that brands will no longer have to engage with its sales team directly. It remains to be seen what moderation will be in place to ensure that ads remain relevant, of value and engaging to the user, but I expect that only a few advertisers will be able to regularly offer such value.

This is a big gamble for Twitter. While on one hand it can offer advertisers access to a massive low-cost direct response channel, but if those ads are deemed to be annoying by users then it’s not just the brand that loses out.

The problem for Twitter is that access to its service isn’t exclusive. Users can also access their account through any one of a huge range of third-party mobile applications such as HootSuite, Echofon or TwitBird. ‘Promoted Tweets’ can only be displayed on Twitter’s native app, leaving third-party clients free to sell their inventory as they see fit, offering advertisers the option of better targeting and greater creative freedom.

With sales of smartphones now dwarfing those of PCs, Twitter is right to look at mobile advertising as way of generating revenue but for the advertiser, they need to ask themselves whether it’s a cheap direct response channel they are looking for, or do they want to integrate mobile as part of a wider digital ad strategy.

With the browsers of all new iPhones and many Android devices now able to handle highly creative, animated mobile ad designs, we have reached the stage where brands can create connected digital ad campaigns where the creative element is the same across both mobile and web. This opens up huge possibilities for brands and media agencies and elevates mobile beyond being just a direct response channel.

Most notable is the arrival of HTML5 Canvas, a mobile-friendly browser feature which specialist developers can use to build stunning animations and full-screen rich-media overlays, which are able to engage users like never before.

Smart ad technology can also recognise how often a user visits a site, making sure that they only see the full screen overlay once, respecting the fact that they might not appreciate multiple views.

So there lies the dilemma.

Mobile now stands alongside the web as a platform for targeted, connected and highly creative digital ad campaigns. With Twitter’s mobile ad model based on the fact that users have no choice but to see text based ads, I think they might have missed one small fact……users do have a choice and so do advertisers.


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