Study Finds That Brand Takeovers Are the Most Effective Way to Advertise on Social Media

Top of the Twitter feed wins the day

Screen time for "First View" ads is 50 percent higher, according to the study.
Getty Images

Unlike @justinbieber or @realDonaldTrump, most brands’ official Twitter accounts don’t have millions of followers eagerly awaiting their every utterance.

No matter how clever your content is, it’s hard to stand out in a sea of competing messages like Thursday’s 3.6 million tweets about former FBI director James Comey.

So how can brands really make a mark when it comes to the world’s most fickle social network? According to a new study commissioned by Twitter and IPG Mediabrands, the answer is simple—stage a takeover.

Jack Dorsey’s company collaborated with creative tech unit IPG Media Lab and Magna, the media network’s intelligence and innovation division, on a media trial examining the success of paid video ads appearing in users’ feeds. “The Art of the Takeover: Optimizing What Consumers See First” found that First View, or promoted videos that run at the top of users’ time lines, are more effective than “standard view” ads that appear throughout the same feeds.

According to the data, takeovers are on-screen an average of 50 percent more than ads that appear lower in the feed.

“For the casual user, an ad at the top of the feed is obviously more likely to be noticed, and the larger format only reinforces this.”
Rebecca Lieb, analyst and author

The research also found that these sorts of placements are twice as memorable as (and thereby more valuable than) brand takeovers of websites. The study theorized that this is because such ads feel “more relevant and less intrusive to the user” but did not elaborate.

Finally, the study suggested that takeover ads should be longer than standard view posts, which often consist of GIFs or six-second videos, so they can more prominently highlight new products. Ads that appear throughout users’ feeds, on the other hand, often rely more heavily on text to summarize the features of those products.

“By partnering with Magna, we were able to determine that ad location does indeed matter when it comes to reaching specific brand objectives,” said Meghann Elrhoul, head of agency research at Twitter. She also noted that the company was “pleased” to see its own ad products outperform more traditional website takeovers.

The study comes at a crucial time for Twitter, which recently hired former ad-tech executive Bruce Falck to focus on reviving its sales operations after reporting its first-ever drop in ad revenue for the first quarter of 2017.

“Takeovers have long been an effective format, very simply due to the prominent format,” said strategic advisor, analyst and author Rebecca Lieb. “For the casual user, an ad at the top of the feed is obviously more likely to be noticed, and the larger format only reinforces this. As usage becomes increasingly mobile, these two trends are only underscored as online advertising ‘real estate’ is more limited. This study is one that underscores and validates pure intuition.”

But this principle doesn’t just apply to Twitter.

“It’s well established that users whiz by feed ads,” said Jason Kint, CEO of trade association Digital Content Next, referencing GroupM data that revealed how little time Facebook users hover over paid posts. “If I were a brand wanting to get noticed in a feed environment, I would want to be pinned to the top, separated from the user-generated content with maximum attention.”

Allison Brito, associate director of marketing and media at New York agency Wondersauce, added, “In-stream placements now are easy to overlook, [because] people are becoming so used to sponsored posts. But takeovers like this, when targeted correctly and not overused, are a great way to catch a user’s attention for when they’re ready to engage.”

The study involved 3,732 respondents recruited via smartphone and PC. They each completed an initial survey that included demographics and media consumption habits before being randomly placed into a “test cell,” logging on to their own Twitter accounts and viewing real-time content below the test ads. The same process was repeated for users in the desktop group.