I'm not a NASCAR fan. I want to make that clear up front. Not that I have anything against the sport or its fans. They're top notch. Whether it was the noise, the smell or the copious amounts of sweaty flesh piled into bleachers alongside a curved highway, I never gravitated to the sport growing up. So it's just not for me.
But this post isn't about my personal experience with car racing, nor how my poor father was forced to leave the Daytona 500 when I was 8 because I had a nervous breakdown. It's about how drivers, crews and teams attract sponsorship to help them stay in business. And how this idea is relative to how normal people use Twitter.
Corporate sponsors routinely pay millions of dollars to slap their brand identity onto a billboard moving at 200 mph. They're willing to do this even though their moving billboard is just one of forty others. And that the race only lasts a few hours a week. But, if their driver is in contention – the car gets more air time and so having their brand in front of their audience is considered a win for the advertiser. Of course each car usually has other sponsors (as well as racing numbers) which cuts down on the available branding real estate, but the point is that advertisers are willing to pay big even for llimited 'eye time.'
Let's upshift over to Twitter. Currently, most people either utilize a generic Twitter background, or a custom background. And most of the backgrounds I've seen either promote a blog, reinforce a self-ordained SM expert or are just pretty and cool to look at. But make no mistake, these custom Twitter backgrounds are an advertising medium. Except we're selling ourselves. Our personalities. Our brands. Even when someone chooses to use a default background and an o_0 avatar, it says a lot about that person.
Now consider Twitter's popularity and how much time each of us actually spends there interacting with other people. I'm sure there are studies which might reveal that the average Twitterer spends 1.35 hours on the service every day (or something), but whatever that average is – I'll bet that it's probably more than :30 seconds. And what do you see when you're Twittering? Well, that depends. Because every Twitter client is different (Tweetdeck, Seemic, etc.) you could see any number of things. But you almost always see a person's avatar, and absolutely see a person's bio page when you click their name.
So there are two universal mediums within Twitter – the avatar and the Twitter background. And while some brands have started employing branded avatars (click here to see Olivier Blanchard's most excellent post on this topic) – this use is better left to corporate accounts that have a presence on Twitter. Which leaves the background.
Ok, back to NASCAR – where vibrant colors and logos fly around an oval track. Each logo with a dollar sign attached to it. A big dollar sign. If advertisers are willing to pay to sponsor a race team, how long before Home Depot buys space on your Twitter background because you're a Twittering handyman with 2,500 active followers? When someone clicks on your name, they're taken to a page where Home Depot is the top advertised brand on your background. Right above TRANE air conditioner and Scott's fertilizer logos. Someone might visit your page once, or people might do it routinely to link to your blog. But the point is – there are important eyeballs are on your page. And with every insightful or witty remark you make about how to clean gutters – you're essentially driving more people to your page.
Still not convinced? Consider professional cyclists. They're sponsored. How much air time do they get? Exactly. The idea here isn't that your tweets are more important than NASCAR or @lancearmstrong, but that with branding and advertising fighting for every possible impression they can get from you – there certainly must be some credibility in attaching themselves to micro-bloggers based on how people are using Twitter these days. And as far as ROI is concerned, sometimes it's important to align brands with people rather than worry about counting click-throughs (think about someone walking around in the mall with a Nike shirt on).
No, I don't think that we're at a point where any of us could retire
based on the idea of selling advertising space to brands via your
Twitter background, and sponsored avatars seem a bit
spammy, but I do think that sponsored Tweeting is coming. Fast.
Jim is a father, husband, copywriter and founder of smashcommunications.com. You can follow him on Twitter @smashadv
10 CommentsLEAVE A COMMENT
May 13, 2009
Interesting to think more aggressively about how to market yourself visually on Twitter. Obviously an easy one for brands. But what kind of statement does any individual want to make. Blank avatars, fake photos and the like still abound in social. Would think that all participants would want the opp to own their personal brand, how it’s defined and seen, whether to make a political, social or aesthetic statement. Good thoughts.
May 14, 2009
My first reaction was: “I hope not.” But hey, if blogs can do it, maybe it’s just a matter of time for Twitter. Thanks for getting that ball rolling, Jim.
So Diet Pepsi, if you’re watching… And Bain de Soleil, and Amazon, Petco, Fresh Produce (the clothing)… It’s http://twitter.com/katjaib
May 14, 2009
Thanks Edward. I would hope that this is something that remains in the hands of the personal brands to negotiate. After all, we *could* do this right now if we wanted.
May 14, 2009
I think there’s a way to do this without being too spammy Kat. Then again, it’s your background, so if someone wanted to clutter it up with logos, I guess they could. But then I’m sure the advertiser would have a say in positioning, etc. Also, I’m surprised you aren’t interested in Iams or PetSmart as sponsors! 😉
May 15, 2009
I think you’re right. And that’s unfortunate. Something tells me the bigwheels of commerce will make roadkill out of those attempting to stay ahead of them.
May 28, 2009
Argh. I hope not… and yet, I think you’re right.
*le big sigh*
Jun 17, 2009
I’m finding it difficult to compute what the difference is between being an affiliate and promoting someone’s product for them on a blog or Twitter. In fact, as an affiliate, you aren’t even expected to say so – you just pre-sell/recommend and send someone off to an affiliate link. So why the fuss about Twitter?
I don’t think the problem, when there is one, lies with the business model, but with the person operating it.
If you are prepared to bombard people, or to try to pass off something substandard, or something the quality of which you are not even familiar with, then there is a problem. But people will only be bitten once.
However, if you have a conscience, and want to remain reputable, and you promote or recommend only those things you feel good about and can recommend in good conscience, as a service – where’s the problem in that?
Caution is always necessary on the part of someone on the receiving end of another person’s influence, at least till they know them reasonably well, but it would be a pity if illogical prejudice caused us to stonewall everyone who was prepared to recommend someone else’s product because it was a business arrangement.
Anyhow, that’s my two bits.
Jun 17, 2009
Great point Marlene. But the idea with the Twitter sponsorship is slightly different. Not unlike the NASCAR reference. Does everyone who loves Jeff Burton buy only and all of the products he has painted on his car and sewn on his uniform? Probably not. They like him for him. I don’t know this for sure, but living in the heart of NASCAR country, I can tell you that people love the drivers first. Automobile brand second. Team Third and then maybe the brand that sponsors the driver. Still – the brands that sponsor the drivers pay a TON to do so. For eyeballs. So what’s the difference between getting some eyeballs for an hour or so on Twitter or on a flash across a TV screen? There is no difference. They’re still eyeballs.
Shelly DeMotte Kramer
Aug 8, 2009
Terrific thoughts, as usual. I’m not sure why people have their panties in such a wad over the concept of sponsored tweets. Lance Armstrong accepts money from sponsors, but we still root him on. So does Tiger Woods. Does anyone say they are selling their souls to the devil because they capitalize on their “celebrity” to help fund their personal brands? I think not. In fact, our society is built exactly upon this premise. My only complaint, ever, is when someone is dishonest about a paid sponsorship. I tweet about products I like all day long. BUT if I ever tweet about something on behalf of a client, I say “my client’s promotion” and if I tweet about something that is sponsored, I disclose that as well. Transparency equals honesty – and what’s bad about that?
Thanks, as always, for inspiring thought.
Aug 9, 2009
You’re dead on Shelly. And even to the point of using your avatar too. Think of it this way – you own your avatar space, right? Well, not *technically* own, but you know what I mean (it’s your space to use how you like.) If someone wanted to pay you to put a little logo in there as an unobtrusive layer in the bottom left corner of your avatar space they’re simply saying, “Hey look everyone who likes following @shellykramer, we like her a lot too!” (with the implied “you might like us as a result of this coincidence.”) It’s eye time. It’s valuable. Let them pay.
My novel – Minor King
Copyright © Jim Mitchem. Launched by LEAP. Hosted by Command Partners.