Why Twitter’s advertising is way off the mark

Thursday 07th, January 2016

twitter advertising photo

A couple of days ago, I came across some ads for Twitter on adsoftheworld.com and they got me thinking. The campaign has been developed by Ogilvy, Singapore and is great in terms of visual presentation. However, the core idea seems to be weak and is in my view reflective of the crisis that Twitter is facing.

Twitter is unique

Twitter has unarguably been one of the most distinctive brands ever since it debuted in 2007. The idea of conveying your thoughts within a 140 character limit was somewhat arbitrary and whimsical yet charming.

Someone had to impose a limit to bring an element of differentiation into an otherwise over-communicated world and it’s no surprise Twitter gained many adherents who were pressed for time. Whether it was celebrities posting updates for their legions of followers or politicians indulging in some grandstanding Twitter provided immediacy; the virtual equivalent of London’s Hyde Park corner.

Why the advertising misses the point completely

To return to the advertising, the theme of the campaign focuses on the fact that Twitter is where you get to know things first. Now, this is deeply troubling from a number of angles.

One, this is Twitter’s fundamental promise. Whether acknowledged or not, this is what most users associate Twitter with. At its best, Twitter is a great example of citizen journalism – whether it is the story of the Chinese earthquake or the operation to take out Osama Bin Laden. At its worst, it’s no more than a constant blip on an ever-moving timeline – based on speculation, hearsay and mostly absence of verifiable facts.

‘First on Twitter’ is a feature, a lower-order benefit and one that is inherent in the Twitter promise. How much bigger is the opportunity to establish an emotional connect? The sense of excitement, of being intimately connected to your favourite personality? And the thrill that comes from knowing they’re likely to read your response and probably respond in some form as well.

Does Twitter seriously think that its own beloved Twitterati look to it as a primary source of news? A piece of breaking news would make me pause and if it was significant enough I’d go ‘Oh-oh’. But, I’d wait till the bigger news institutions – whether it is the BBC or CNN – begin to report a little later. That is when my desire for the facts are sated as they begin to emerge.

Looking at competition

It has been striking to note how Twitter and Facebook began their lives at about the same time and have taken completely different paths in their evolution. Over the years, I have also noticed that each platform commands a distinct audience – while hardcore Twitter users will invariably sneer at Facebook users, while the latter are smug in their acceptance of all of Menlo Park’s goodies.

Facebook has been spectacularly successful in establishing itself as a source of warm, fuzzy love. And the brand continues to innovate with mushy memories and throwbacks to past events and other innovations from time to time.

The results are there for all to see. At approximately 1.4 billion users, Facebook is the Colossus that rules over all it sees. Niche brand, Instagram and the favourite of home-makers everywhere has already overtaken Twitter in the numbers race.

What happens next?

Ultimately, Twitter has been a victim of its own success. The recent news that the platform is experimenting with a 10K word limit astonished me. Why is Twitter so intent on altering the essence of the brand? Is there something that the boffins at Twitter know that the rest of the world doesn’t know yet?

Twitter urgently needs to develop its audiences across other geographies. As with other platforms, the US is the primary market for Twitter. Audiences elsewhere are less prone to tweeting about themselves. Cultural differences between the US and the rest of the world are significant enough to take notice.

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