The Marketing Society Forum - Will Twitter be ruined by the presence of paid-for ads?

LONDON - The microblog is fine-tuning its plans to offer brands paid-for text ad spaces. These will use the site's 140-character format around real-time search results, but will not appear within Twitter feeds.

NO - TONY EFFIK, Chief strategy officer, Publicis Modem; chair, IAB social media council

Ads will benefit Twitter. Last November, it changed its key question from 'What are you doing?' to 'What's happening?' The answers form a unique searchable database. Twitter is a real-time search engine - the fastest and most relevant way of finding out what's going on right now. This forces Google - worth £114bn - to reappraise its strategy. High stakes indeed.

Twitter knows that in the past, brands like Yahoo! got it wrong, by over-commercialising their online real estate and not balancing user and business needs. Google launched as its antithesis and honed its design, shunning banners for pay-per-click text ads. Discrete sponsored links are now an accepted part of the visual language of search.

Each web innovation creates a fresh generation of purists who gradually or grudgingly accept mainstream commercialisation. This is no exception.

Twitter has learned from its predecessors. It will emerge more useful, and the incremental income should fuel a new wave of innovation.

NO - MIKE COLLING, Managing director, MC&C

Unlike conventional search engines, people use Twitter to share information. They aren't in a search mindset. As a result, it may be difficult to get people to read and respond to ads in sufficient numbers to deliver a return.

In its current form, this amounts to a pretty limited opportunity for brands, so what can Twitter do to strengthen this offering? Targeting is part of the answer. Twitter already holds a lot of important data - language, time zone, location, biographical information - all of which could be used for targeting.

It could also target people using semantics, the profiles and behaviours of people being followed, topic trends, and even tweet content itself.

Twitter's commercial strategy has potential, but success will depend on how it is delivered. Moreover, many Twitter users access the service via mobile phones, which can be an unfriendly environment for advertising.

Until brands are reassured the concept has been seriously thought through, the jury remains out.

NO - IAN BILLINGTON, Managing partner, Billington Cartmell

They said that radio would be ruined by advertising; in fact they said that about everything. The truth of the matter is that only advertising that offers no value ruins media or your experience of it.

Great TV spots can get a nation talking, well-bought search ads can help you get what you want more quickly and cheaply, outdoor can help fund cleaner streets (as councils benefit from sites they own) and social-media sites can provide you with content and connections for free, thanks to ads.

Badly made, poorly targeted or enforced advertising serves only to devalue both the medium and our trust in advertising - and there is the rub. The challenge for Twitter will not be if it does advertising (given its valuation versus its lack of revenue, it will have to), but how it does it.

Twitter needs to understand that advertising is a privilege, not a right, and that it shouldn't abuse it - at least, not if it wants to keep its loyal and growing subscriber base.

NO - ROB OUBRIDGE, Managing director, Aqueduct

Twitter embracing ads is inevitable. The site has been valued at £662m, and it has been trying for months to find ways to capitalise on its massive growth.

Featured ads must be sympathetic to the space - informative or entertaining in a way that enhances the experience of the microblog that users treat as a running commentary on pop culture.

Smart brands will tailor ads to people's 'feeds and needs'. The key to success will be how brands adapt to conversing with consumers. Done poorly, it will alienate. Done well, it will be an exciting communication channel.

Commercially, it's a smart move. Twitter's unique feel won't be lost, as long as ads don't intrude on users' space. People already use Twitter to find opinions on products. They will continue to be happy to search for 'Sony laptops' provided that, in doing so, they are not bombarded with ads for credit check reports.

For more discussion, visit

The Marketing Society is the most influential network of senior marketers dedicated to championing marketing in the UK


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