Understanding Ads on Twitter: Part I

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, widely expected this week. The latest projections have the shares opening at as high as $25, which […]

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, widely expected this week. The latest projections have the shares opening at as high as $25, 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.

Each day this week we’ll explore one aspect of advertising on Twitter, starting with the first ad unit it introduced: promoted tweets. Watch MarketingMag.ca this week for more on promoted trends, promoted accounts, Twitter Amplify and a look at its approach to targeting.


Advertising first came to Twitter in the spring of 2010.

On April 14 of that year at Advertising Age’s digital conference, Dick Costolo, then chief operating officer at Twitter, introduced the company’s long-awaited first ad unit to a crowd of eager marketers – the “promoted tweet.”

In Canada, promoted tweets are Twitter’s most popular ad unit and the primary entry point to paid advertising on Twitter for Canadian brands, according to Ivan Pehar, a senior account executive at Twitter Canada.

Sold on a cost-per-engagement, promoted tweets are entirely performance based – meaning brands only pay when consumers respond to, retweet, favourite or tap to expand a tweet, Pehar said.

The unit appears as either the third or fourth tweet on a user’s timeline, meaning it’s always above the fold and will be see when users first open the service on both mobile and desktop.

Only one promoted tweet appears on the entire timeline and unless they engage with an ad, consumers only see an ad from any given brand once during a 24-hour period. The ad appears for users based on their interests, the keywords they write in their tweets and their location (more about targeting later this week).

When Telus launched its digitally driven “Keep It In Your Pants” campaign this July, it purchased promoted tweets throughout the month. Inspired by Cell Phone Courtesy Month, the telco created and shared memes, photos and videos using promoted tweets to further its reach and generate conversation with consumers about smartphone etiquette.

In one tweet, Telus shared a picture and the caption, “Keep It Real, Don’t Text At The Wheel,” with the hashtag #KeepItInYourPants. Throughout the month it shared others like, “No such thing as phone curls at the gym. It’s Cellphone Courtesy Month, spread the word!” and “If you walk & text, you’ll hit what’s next.”

Though Telus created a microsite on Tumblr and used PR to drive interest, much of the promotion happened on Twitter, with the brand purchasing promoted tweets throughout July, leading up to the culmination of the campaign which was coupled with a second ad unit – #KeepItInYourPants as a promoted trend.

By combining the two ad units, the brand saw 10,719 tweets using the hashtag, accounting for more impressions than any other platform. In total, Twitter accounted for 58% of the campaign’s 22.6 million impressions.

Dan Sorotschynski, director of social and digital at Telus, said the key to the campaign’s success was combining paid ads and organic efforts like tweeting and responding to consumers and also using a combination of the promoted tweets and a promoted trend.

“The great thing about then using the promoted trend was that it was in tandem,” he said. “It allowed us to not only spread that message wide, but to also have the opportunity to come up with unique creative and individualized responses in real time.”

For brands like Telus, Twitter’s ad units are increasingly becoming a way to start conversations with consumers who may not follow a brand about topics that relate to their brand. As Pehar pointed out, Visa Canada similarly used the platform (and its paid ad units) to get consumers talking about making small purchases with their Visa card, the primary objective of its spring “Smallenfreuden” campaign which used a mysterious hashtag on billboards to drive interest on Twitter.

Likewise, Pehar cited McDonald Canada’s recent #MakeMyFilm campaign, which asked consumers to come up with a 140-character film plot for the chance to have it made into a short film, as a successful use of Twitter’s paid ad units. In each case, the brand created a dialogue with consumers and using paid media to invite more consumers to talk rather than simply extra ammo to blast out a one-way message.

By starting a positive conversation, as Telus did by promoting tweets about technology’s role in social life, brands can get friendly with consumers and create brand trust – Keep It In Your Pants saw 93% positive or neutral sentiment – a big feat for a category usually plagued by customer service complaints.

Sorotschynski said Telus has been on Twitter as @Telus since 2007 and first began using its paid products in Nov. 2011. It currently has just under 43,800 followers. To reap the benefits of the platform, he said brands have to use a combination of daily earned activity followed by paid media at opportune moments, as it did during Keep It In Your Pants and again on We Day in September.

“To really get your message out, you’ve got to pay to play,” he said. “I look at it as a fire. When you’re building a fire you can’t just throw a bunch of big logs on and expect it to catch. You need to start with kindling and that kindling in this instance is using paid media.”

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