We don't know how big Twitter's mobile ad revenue stream is -- there are conflicting reports -- but eMarketer puts it at $130 million for 2012. We do, however, know that Twitter offers advertisers one major advantage that clients on Google often don't get:
The universal ability to target users by buying a rival's trademarked brand name.
Google has a complex policy regarding the use of ad targeting based on trademarked names. In many countries -- Australia, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, Macau, New Zealand, North Korea, South Korea, or Taiwan -- Pepsi cannot buy AdWords triggered by people searching for "Coke" if the intention is to get people to click on a site for Pepsi. And you cannot use the word "Coke" in your ad if you are Pepsi.
(There are ways advertisers can target ads based on trademarks they don't own, but those ways come with caveats, and they're different in different countries. Plus, Google listens to advertisers who complain if rivals' are keying ads off their brands.)
Google, of course, is taking the lion's share of mobile ad dollars as people use their phones for search. It has an $8 billion run-rate of revenues from mobile. The strength of its business comes from the implied intent of the user doing the search: Someone searching for "Macy's" probably wants to go shopping at either the nearest Macy's or Macys.com. That's a good time to serve them an ad for Macy's. But J.C. Penney can't serve an ad that says "We have lower prices than Macy's."
On Twitter, however, Penney's can do the next best thing. We talked to Velti CMO Krishna Subramanian recently, on the subject of what mobile advertisers can do on Twitter. (Velti is a mobile agency and marketing platform manager, and the company does all sorts of mobile targeting campaigns.)
Twitter allows advertisers to target promoted tweets to specific accounts, Subramanian says. (That targeting can also be limited to the mobile platform specifically, and by geography, interests, engagement level and a host of other parameters.) So J.C. Penney really can target Macy's Twitter followers with tweets dissing Macy's, if it wants to. You can also extend the reach of the campaign by targeting users who are similar to users who follow Macy's.
As users generally tweet about what's on their mind right now, Subramanian says, "Twitter is the one platform that comes close to that intent-based platform" for targeting shoppers.
Which makes Twitter a potential threat to Google's dominance of consumer intent retargeting.
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