Understanding Ads on Twitter: Part 3

From opening an office in Canada to making a play for TV-adjacent ad dollars, 2013 has already been a big year for Twitter, and it’s about to get bigger. The company is preparing for its initial public offering, expected Thursday. The latest projections have the shares opening as high as $25 (the final price is […]

From opening an office in Canada to making a play for TV-adjacent ad dollars, 2013 has already been a big year for Twitter, and it’s about to get bigger. The company is preparing for its initial public offering, expected Thursday. The latest projections have the shares opening as high as $25 (the final price is expected today), which would value the company at around $15.6 billion.

To sustain that value, Twitter needs to sell its suite of ad products – currently its main driver of revenue  – and expand as it has with its venture into the TV ad market this year. So as the English web’s favourite microblogging service prepares to go public, Marketing is taking a look at Twitter’s ad offering and how it has been used by Canadian marketers.

Earlier this week we explored promoted tweets and promoted accounts. Today we’re looking at promoted trends. Watch MarketingMag.ca this week for more on the IPO, Twitter Amplify and a look at Twitter’s approach to targeting.


A few things are guaranteed to trend on Twitter. The Oscars, the Super Bowl, Justin Bieber album releases and Rob Ford scandals.

For everything else, there’s Twitter’s “promoted trend” ad unit.

Introduced in June 2010, promoted trends give brands the chance appear in its “Trends” section of the day’s most popular topics. Located on the left panel (and the “Discovery” tab on mobile) the only thing distinguishing a promoted trend from the most tweeted about words and hashtags of the day is an arrow in a yellow box and the text, “Promoted.”

By purchasing a promoted trend, brands can get in front of a large number of eyeballs at once and invite consumers into a conversation they are leading, often about an event they’re sponsoring or a topic that relates to their products.

Brands also often use it as either the kick off or culmination of a digital campaign, as Kraft Canada did for its #KDPocalypse campaign and Telus did for its #KeepItInYourPants campaign. (Read more about those in Part 1 and Part 2 of the series.)

Ivan Pehar, a senior account executive at Twitter Canada, likened promoted trends to a YouTube or Yahoo homepage takeover, as it allows a brand to own the top of a conversational space for the day.

Unlike Twitter’s other ad options, promoted trends are sold in 24-hour increments at a flat rate rather than a cost-per-engagement.

Pehar said brands can purchase promoted trends for one or multiple days and can use the ad option to target specific countries (ie: all of Canada) or purchase a global promoted trend, as brands running campaigns around events like the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup often do.

He recommended brands use promoted trends for holidays important in their category, like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, events like TIFF or Luminato, or big shopping days such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the last day items purchased will ship before Christmas.

Whether it’s hinged on an event or part of a campaign, the goal of using a promoted trend is to spur conversation. Like Twitter’s user-driven trends, promoted trends invite consumers to see what others are saying and offer their own commentary.

That type of conversation is not without an element of risk, as Rogers learned in March 2012 when it purchased the promoted trend #RogersOneNumber.

Almost immediately, consumers began to use the hashtag to vent about their problems with Rogers (which owns Marketing) and its services.

As one user tweeted at the time, “#Rogers1Number paying to have this trend promoted just made it easier to read the world’s negative thoughts about Rogers. #CounterProductive.”

Though his team was overwhelmed with negative feedback from consumers that day, Keith McArthur, vice-president of social media at Rogers, said that was the risk the brand took when it purchased the promoted trend and invited consumers into a conversation about its products.

“There’s always a risk with social media that you’re going to get negative feedback,” he said. “It was certainly challenging but the reason we’re on social media is to hear from customers. Once we started hearing from them on that day in a more vocal way than usual, it wasn’t entirely a bad thing. There were learnings we could take from those interactions.”

For one, he said his team learned the promoted trend unit isn’t a fit for the umbrella Rogers brand, though he still believes it could be used effectively for Rogers-owned media brands like Sportsnet and Citytv.

“I think it was as simple as learning the promoted trend wasn’t the best ad unit for our brand, though there are lots of other good ways we can leverage Twitter to reach our customers,” he said.

And while that day saw an excess of negative sentiment, McArthur said he’s found consumers are actually more receptive to ads on Twitter than other social networks, including Facebook.

“When a user is on Twitter they’re not just there to converse with their friends, they’re also following media, brands and famous people,” he said. “They won’t necessarily find it as a jolting when a brand is promoting a message in that space.”

Though he said Rogers is not likely to use the promoted trend again, it has actively purchased promoted tweets, most recently for Rogers Youth Education Day, in which the company donated a dollar for every user that tweeted the hashtag #brighterfuture.

In total, Rogers raised $10,000 for charity with the initiative and Twitter Canada added an extra $5,000 through its Twitter For Good program.

It has also used promoted tweets to share utility-based branded content, such as a recent video showing how to use the gesture feature on the Samsung Galaxy 4 – one of its key smartphones.

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