Twitter dangles incentives to try to lure advertisers

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Elon Musk’s Twitter is offering brands generous incentives to advertise on the social media platform, in a bid to boost business after the billionaire’s approach to content moderation prompted many major marketers to curb spending.

In one email sent to advertising agencies, a copy of which was seen by the Financial Times, Twitter said that it was launching its “largest advertiser incentive ever” in December, offering additional impressions if brands spent a certain amount.

According to the email, Twitter will match the spending of those who pay at least $500,000 with a cap of $1mn per advertiser. Those spending $350,000 will receive “50 per cent value add” — meaning they receive additional impressions worth half of what they spend. A $200,000 investment grants advertisers a “25 per cent value add”, or extra impressions worth a quarter of what they spend.

Another email sent to a separate agency, also seen by the FT, contained that same offer for US brands, as well as slightly different offers for brands in the UK and the rest of the world, for example.

The attempt to lure advertisers comes as Musk, who closed his $44bn deal for the social media platform in October, has increasingly alienated brands and advertising agencies by loosening Twitter content moderation policies, undoing suspensions of rule-breaking accounts and laying off more than half of the workforce, including many of its ad sales team.

Brands including Mondelez, Carlsberg, United Airlines and General Motors have ceased advertising on the platform, while agencies including Omnicom Media and Interpublic Group have recommended their clients pause spending, dealing a blow to Twitter’s $5bn business.

Musk is on the hook for $1bn in annual interest payments after loading the company with $13bn of debt to help fund his acquisition of the business.

The Twitter incentives will last through December, according to the email, which invited brands and agencies to talk by phone to discuss scenarios “given the timeliness”. 

Platformer and Morning Brew first reported details of the incentives. Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

Musk, a self-declared “free speech absolutist”, is allowing all speech on the platform as long as it is legal, although “negative/hate speech” will not be boosted in users’ feeds. The company is no longer enforcing its policy of banning coronavirus misinformation, though in a blog post on Wednesday it said none of its policies had changed and that its trust and safety team remained “strong and well-resourced”.

Tensions between Musk and advertisers have escalated as the billionaire entrepreneur has personally called chief executives who reduced spending in order to berate them. In the case of Apple, one of Twitter’s largest advertisers, Musk on Monday publicly called out the chief executive Tim Cook for shrinking spending on the platform.

After several waves of job cuts and departures, Twitter’s ads business team has shrunk so much that many agencies and brands no longer have any point of contact at the company, according to multiple people familiar with the situation. Others are complaining that Twitter’s ads systems have also become buggy during Musk’s overhaul.

While the December deals Twitter is offering are unusually generous, some brands remain unconvinced, according to industry insiders. One agency executive said it would make “no impact to advertisers’ decisions”.

“They sound like the guy playing the violin on the Titanic,” another senior media buyer said. “I don’t think any client is willing to take the risk.”

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