Just days after the announcement that Twitter is going public, the social network's revenue model will get a high-profile test: Gap, which hasn't advertised on television in four years, is returning to TV with a campaign deeply tied to Twitter.
Before airing commercials on U.S. primetime Monday night, the brand released them on Twitter during the weekend. The spots star Dhani Harrison, George Harrison's son, and Alexa Ray Joel, Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley's daughter, performing covers of songs made famous by their parents — which were "unlocked" after links from Gap exceeded 500 retweets during the weekend. Gap is also buying promoted tweets tied to television shows it's advertising on, as well as ones that it isn't running commercials on, to tap a broader swath of consumers.
Twitter "allows you to extend the TV buy, the broadcast buy, and make it feel much bigger than the paid portion actually is," Seth Farbman, Gap's chief marketing officer, said in an interview with BuzzFeed.
Gap dropped its once-iconic presence on the small screen while it fixed its brand image and revived sales. Now, it's both betting on Twitter and giving the service a high-profile showcase for a link to television, which could become a key source of revenue for the company. While Twitter has long been recognized as a second screen for people to talk about TV while watching it, the partnership will seek to prove it's also a complementary avenue where brands can run ads in support of a main TV campaign.
Though Gap has advertised on Twitter for years, Farbman said the brand took a new interest after the digital company reportedly spent almost $90 million buying Bluefin Labs earlier this year, Twitter's biggest acquisition at the time. Bluefin analyzes what's happening on TV and what's happening on Twitter, figuring out what people are talking about and affinities between TV shows and brands — which is of obvious interest to marketers.
"It's almost like Nielsen — they can find out in real time where people are having conversations, where moments are becoming really interesting, where there is this sort of spike of interest in any one event," Gap's Farbman said. Gap made its ad buys with respect to that behavior, waiting for a new season of shows to start, and targeting buzzy programming like the American Music Awards and The Michael J. Fox Show, he said.
Gap also developed a series of content around Harrison and Joel, including performances and interviews, which will be featured on Twitter as part of the campaign. It's the first time the two relatively low-profile musicians have covered songs by their parents.
"Our technology will allow Gap to target people really talking about programs when commercials are airing, with additional exclusive content on Twitter," Matt Derella, Twitter's vice president of its direct sales organization in the U.S., said in an interview with BuzzFeed. "It's a way for the commercial to be the first part of the story and actually extend it to the conversation that's happening on Twitter."
So if Gap's commercial runs on Modern Family for example — one of the shows it's advertising on — a person tweeting about the show might see a promoted tweet in her timeline with more information on Dhani Harrison. Once she "engages" with it — retweets it, clicks a link, shares it with a friend — the advertiser is charged for that action, Derella said.
Some marketers view Twitter ads as painfully expensive, particularly relative to Facebook ads and other cheaper products. But Farbman, while declining to provide details around the cost, said that ultimately, using Twitter makes the ads "far more effective and efficient." Gap executives noted last month that the brand is pursuing TV marketing in a "much more focused and surgical" manner than in the past, and that one major reason it's returning to the small screen is because the product and image are at the right place to start attracting new customers.
Gap chose Harrison and Joel for the campaign because "we were interested in this interplay of how you could find a parent in a cross-generational brand, a parent who personified what it means to be 'back to blue' and an individual, and see their child express their beliefs in their own way," Farbman said. It also fueled the creation of unique content that people might actually want to click on and share.
Originally, Gap planned to release the commercials at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, but the volume of retweets on Twitter "unlocked" them earlier, on Sunday, showing some early enthusiasm for Joel and Harrison's performances.
Twitter will be watching the data from the weekend and this week carefully, Derella said.
"The buzz about them coming back, this iconic brand into television, and leveraging the tools we have to bridge their television commercial with our audience talking about television in real-time is a really, really powerful complement that will just amplify the message and help it connect with our users," he said. "Putting all this together is something, for a brand launch this large, important to the company, and definitely new and exciting for us to be a part of."
It may also provide a well-timed example for Twitter, as it works to prove its advertising clout to Wall Street and beyond in the future.