The Latest Branding Opp? The Profile Picture


NEW YORK Twitter may be free of advertising, but that hasn't stopped brands from trying to get in front of users glued to the fast-growing service. They've made their presence felt in subtler ways, such as holding quizzes and donating to charities in the hopes visitors will tweet about a brand. One of the more recent efforts involves brands looking for a persistent presence in the Twitter stream through users' profile pictures.

AMC last week struck a chord on Twitter with a new site called Mad Men Yourself, created in advance of the debut of the third season of the series about life at Sterling Cooper. (It returns Aug. 16.) Mad Men Yourself, created by New York digital shop Deep Focus, invites users to build a stylized version of themselves in the manner of characters on the show. It's the latest in a series of avatar creation sites (think OfficeMax's Elf Yourself) with a 2009 twist: visitors can easily use their customized creation as their Twitter or Facebook profile picture.

By the end of the week, Twitter was alive with Mad Men-inspired icons, to the point that social media site called the effort "pure genius."
 "We were looking for an unexpected way for fans to enter into the world of Mad Men," said Linda Schupack, AMC's svp of marketing. "We wanted something that lived digitally that could [have] a pass-along quality to it."

AMC said it hasn't yet compiled the numbers of avatars generated, but Twitter Search shows hundreds of people are discussing the show and its promotion.

It isn't the first time Twitter avatars have been used for branding. Israeli developer Arik Fraimovich has created an application called Twcauses for people to show solidarity with different social and political movements through their avatars. In June, during the protests over Iran's election results, users could change the color of the background in their profile picture to green, the symbol of the opposition party. Over 235,000 Iran-related avatars were created, according to Fraimovich-and without the benefit of any marketing.

The reach was even greater considering  Twitter celebs like Gary Vaynerchuk and MC Hammer, who combined have nearly 2 million followers, used the green background as well. The success of the effort led Twitter backer Chris Sacca to put Fraimovich in touch with Livestrong, the cancer group led by cycling star and avid Twitterer Lance Armstrong, to use Twcauses as part of its mission to raise awareness. It released an application for people to add the popular yellow Livestrong bracelet to their pictures. Almost 50,000 were created, according to Fraimovich.

"If you think creative enough you can get a lot of attention [with a] very low budget," said Fraimovich, "which can give almost equal opportunity for small brands and big brands."