Twitter's first TV ads tout advertising potential

SAN FRANCISCO Mon Jun 11, 2012 5:03pm EDT

A Twitter page is displayed on a laptop computer in Los Angeles October 13, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

A Twitter page is displayed on a laptop computer in Los Angeles October 13, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Twitter Inc aired its first TV ads to tout its advertising potential on Sunday during a Nascar broadcast on Time Warner Inc's TNT cable network.

The ads, produced as part of a partnership between Twitter and Nascar, come as the six-year old micro-blogging service seeks to establish itself as a serious social media business, despite heightened doubts about the sector in the wake of Facebook Inc's bumpy IPO.

Twitter is hoping to attract major brands to its service by cultivating the widespread use of hashtags - the keywords in a tweet preceded by the symbol (#) that denote a tweet's topic - and promoting hashtag pages as destinations where consumers can find information or supplemental content about products.

Using Nascar to demonstrate how hashtag pages could work, Twitter aired six different 15-second spots during Sunday's Pocono 400 race that introduced the "#NASCAR" hashtag and directed viewers to the URL "twitter.com/#NASCAR." On the Nascar's hashtag page, Nascar fans could view content posted by drivers, their families and racing teams that supplemented the cable broadcast.

One commercial showed driver Brad Keselowski taking a photo from inside his race car with the tagline: "See what he sees" while another showed the view from the helmet cam of a pit technician.

In a blog post previewing the Nascar hashtag page, Twitter executive Omid Ashtari wrote that "throughout the weekend - but especially during the race - a combination of algorithms and curation will surface the most interesting Tweets to bring you closer to all of the action happening around the track, from the garage to the victory lane."

Jim Tobin, the president of marketing firm Ignite Social Media, said Twitter's introduction of hashtag pages mirrored Facebook's brand pages, where companies can post products and announcements.

Twitter spokesman Gabriel Stricker said Nascar did not pay for its curated hashtag page, but added that Twitter did not plan any more similar partnerships.

Twitter boasts 140 million monthly active users who post 400 million tweets a day, CEO Dick Costolo said this month, but it remains unclear how much revenue the company brings in given its reach.

As Twitter's usage numbers have climbed, the hashtag has morphed into somewhat of a pop cultural symbol since it was first devised in August 2007 by Chris Messina, a designer at Google and early Twitter user.

Wryly appending "#winning" to tweets, for instance, became a fad in early 2011 after actor Charlie Sheen emphatically used the word to describe his own highly-publicized, cocaine-fueled meltdown.

Meanwhile, companies have looked to tap into the phenomenon by increasingly introducing hashtags as part of marketing campaigns. Results, though, have sometimes been mixed.

In early 2012, McDonald's sought to give its ingredient suppliers a human face by posting their quotes to its Twitter feed with the hashtag "#McDstories."

What began as potato farmers describing their pride in working with the international fast-food chain quickly backfired as Twitter users hijacked the hashtag to share their own MacDonald's stories of a markedly different flavor: Fingernails found in Big Macs, episodes of food poisoning, snarky jokes about diabetes.

The chastened chain quickly shut down the campaign.

"As Twitter continues to evolve its platform and engagement opportunities, we're learning from our experiences," Rick Wion, McDonald's social media director, said at the time.

(Editing by Andre Grenon)

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