Vincent Harris Quoted on how Facebook and Google are winning the political ad race. Here’s Twitter’s plan to catch up.
Twitter isn’t winning the fight for digital ad dollars — ask any campaign adviser. But just like the politicians who use its product, Twitter has a message for its followers: Don’t count us out just yet.
Digital platforms are finally starting to see real money from political advertising, but so far almost all of that money is going to Facebook and Google.
Analysts project $1.1 billion in political ad revenue will to flow to digital platforms in this election cycle — quadruple the spending from the 2012 elections. Facebook and Google are expected to scoop up as much as 85 percent of that revenue, with Twitter a distant third.
Twitter’s plan/hope: Wait for the summer, when the campaigns move from fundraising to promoting broader themes and messages — and when Twitter’s strength in brand advertising can help.
That’s also a concession to the reality Twitter faces today: Right now, the campaigns are most interested in direct-response ads intended to drive a specific outcome like a campaign donation. Twitter enables some of that through “lead generation cards,” which allow the campaigns to collect a user’s email whenever they respond to an ad appearing in their timeline. But Twitter isn’t anywhere near as strong in direct-response ads as Google and Facebook are.
DR ads are a small and underwhelming part of the company’s business; we’ve heard they account for about 10 percent of Twitter’s ad revenue.
What Twitter specializes in is brand messaging, says Jenna Golden, Twitter’s head of political ad sales. She argues that this will be much more valuable as candidates gear up for their respective conventions and, eventually, Election Day this November.
“The major budgets aren’t going to get unleashed until July or August — that’s when money starts flying,” Golden said. “That’s [when campaigns promote] bigger ideas … I think Twitter works there.” Golden thinks DR ads will only make up 10 percent to 20 percent of its total political ad sales by the time the campaign cycle is over. That means that most of what Twitter expects to collect is still sitting in campaign coffers.
For now, Twitter has sought to carve out a niche with ads that capitalize on the immediacy of the platform. When a bird unexpectedly alighted on Bernie Sanders’s podium at a rally in Portland, Ore., the crowd — in the Moda Center and online — went wild.
Twitter contacted the Sanders campaign to alert the digital strategists to the phenomenon, and the campaign quickly converted #BirdieSanders into fund-raising gold.
“[Twitter] was the most effective platform for fundraising on that day,” said Golden. “Where Twitter shines [is] in live moments.”
Twitter also works as a modern-day water cooler, where the political elite, journalists and pundits gather to deconstruct live political events. It’s an influential group for campaigns to reach.
Vincent Harris, former chief digital strategist for Sen. Rand Paul’s now-suspended presidential campaign, said his team would prepare animated GIFs, graphics and Vine video snippets to distribute via Twitter at key moments during the Republican presidential candidate debates.
“I don’t think any other platform has the ability, especially from an ad perspective, where you can go up with your content and promote it and shove it out instantly,” Harris said.