Speaking on a panel with the IAB Annual Leadership Conference on Monday, Twitter’s head of product management Anametra Banerji announced that the company is in the test phase of an advertising platform which will be released in about a month. Cue the theme from Jaws—ads are coming to Twitter!
Except, they’ve been there for a long time by now. Not only can any user tweet to their heart’s content about the wonder of a product, but there are a number of services like Twittertise, AdCause, TwittAd, SponsoredTweets, reTweet.it and BeTweeted which exist to promote the practice of being paid to tweet. There are already a lot of ads of Twitter that many people don’t even realize are ads; back in December, fans of Kim Kardashian were shocked to learn that her odes to things like Reebok EasyTones were less than genuine. She gets paid by ad.ly up to $10,000 to tweet about certain products, as do other celebrities like Soulja Boy, Dr. Drew and Lauren Conrad.
With no further details released by the company, all the announcement really means is that soon there will be something created internally by Twitter which will enable advertising. It is unclear what exactly the platform will do or how it will function, but (as reported by MediaPost) Banerji did say that Twitter will make it “explicitly clear that a sponsor” paid for the ad, which will be “relevant and useful, so the doesn’t think of it as an ad.” What? How can an ad be both explicit about the fact that it is an ad, and yet not be thought of as an ad? This sounds like more of the incognito advertising happening every day, unbeknownst to most people on Twitter. (Never mind that Banerji also said, “Innovate very, very quickly, before someone innovates on top of you.” Really, who hasn’t been innovating on top of Twitter?) The company does need to monetize, but they may have missed the boat on doing it with ads.
With ever more ad platforms being built, consumers seem to have never considered that a celebrity might be paid for an endorsement, and even television channels are being created as a result of advertising demand, it is clear that more attention needs to be paid to media literacy. Advertising is not going away, and it is not inherently a bad thing, but it is important for people to know when they are being coaxed into buying something.