Twitter’s CMO Explains Today’s Brand Refresh and the New ‘See What’s Happening’ Ads

Leslie Berland says new ads tell an old story, better

Headshot of Tim Nudd

What is Twitter, and what is it for?

Those are pretty basic questions for a company that's been around for a decade and, by its own reckoning, has 90 percent name recognition among consumers worldwide. But nonusers, by and large, still can't answer them. 

Twitter admitted as much today, as it rolled out the first materials in a new ad campaign designed to explain, once and for all, why those nonusers—who are obviously key to the company's growth, as Adweek reported in March—should start using it. 

So, what is Twitter?

It's a place where you can "See what's happening," says the new tagline, both in the social and professional circles you build on the platform, and in the world of sports, news and any other public sphere imaginable. (The "See what's happening" line is rendered slightly differently here and there across the campaign, including the variation "It's what's happening." On Twitter itself, users have long between prompted by the line "What's happening?" within the posting box.) 

Twitter's new CMO, Leslie Berland, who joined the company in February, announced the campaign in a blog post Monday morning, and showed off two new spots. (Creative was handled by Bonfire, with DesignStudio handling design work for the campaign.)

One spot is an anthem-style piece, while the other is focused exclusively on politics. Both position Twitter as the place to go to see what's happening right now.

Adweek spoke to Berland early Monday afternoon. She said this message to consumers isn't really new, but will be told better now than it has in the past. The goal is to boost user growth, which has notoriously slumped at Twitter lately. 

"We've always been about what's happening in the world," Berland said. "Every time you're on Twitter, we ask the question, 'What's happening?' This is a manifestation of exactly that—all the things that are happening on Twitter every day around the world, and capturing it in a new way."

Given the high awareness but low understanding about Twitter among nonusers, it would seem Twitter has more of a product problem than a brand problem. Yet these first spots feel more like brand anthems. But Berland said setting broad expectations about what people should expect when they join Twitter is important—which is why the spots have a brand feel to them.

Leslie Berland

"There is work underway both to refine the product itself and make it more intuitive, and there's work underway that we're putting together [in the marketing group] to educate people how to use Twitter and how to get the most out of Twitter," she said. "But defining for people the intent and the expectation when they arrive at Twitter is quite critical. When we surveyed people, many of them had come to visit Twitter and were looking for friends and family members, and to share photos and things like that, which is a disconnect. [The new campaign] is brand related, but for us, it's about clarity in what you're there to do."

In any case, she added, the distinction between brand and product is not as sharply divided at Twitter. "The product is the brand, and the brand is the product," she said. "We see this very holistically." 

In addition to the "See what's happening" message, Twitter is livening up its color palette and using its iconic bird mascot in more abstract ways as a design element—for example, as a frame around images of dynamic shots of the world. More visual diversity is meant to celebrate the existing user base's expressiveness and vibrancy. 

"That blue bird is recognized all over the world and is extremely powerful," Berland said. "I think what we haven't done enough of is breaking out of those blues and whites and grays to really show both the diversity and the voices and the personality that come to life on Twitter every single day."

She added: "The way I like to think about it is, you now see the bird as a window into what's happening in the world. The images and the pictures and the photos are really coming to life within the bird itself. We're playing with different cuts and views of the bird. When you have a brand that's this powerful, there's a lot that you can do with it."

Berland said in her blog post that there is "much more to come" in terms of Twitter's efforts to "express what we're for and what we've always been." She told Adweek that she will be monitoring various metrics to gauge the impact of the campaign, both on and off site.

"We'll be looking at brand perception and brand understanding. Also, clickthrough rates, engagement rates," she said. "Some prerolls will drive to the App Store, some to Moments. We'll be tracking the conversations and clickthroughs and engagements and installs that come from this. This is really the beginning." 

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.