The rapper Snoop Dogg gave his backing on Twitter to an advertisement for the Toyota Sienna minivan. The actress Tori Spelling linked to a car-hire website. And the reality television star Khloe Kardashian commented on the brand of jeans that accentuate her family’s famous proportions.
“Want to know how Old Navy makes your butt look scary good? Ask a Kardashian,” she wrote, or tweeted, on the social media site.
These celebrities aren’t just writing about family cars and fashion choices for the sake of it. Stars can get paid big money – sometimes US$10,000 (Dh36,700) or more per post – to pontificate about clothes, cars and movies in the maximum 140 characters allowed per tweet. That adds up to about Dh260 per character.
Twitter, which in its five-year existence has reshaped how people shop, vote and start revolutions, is now changing the business of celebrity endorsements. Just as Match.com and eHarmony pair up singles for dates, a growing number of start-up firms are hooking up companies with stars who get paid to praise products to their thousands – sometimes millions – of Twitter followers.
The list of celebrities and the things they hawk is long and getting longer all the time. The endorsements range from subtle to blatant; the celebrity pairings from sensible to downright odd.
The singer Ray J urged his 600,000-plus Twitter followers to see the horror movie Saw 3D. The footballer Terrell Owens gave a shout-out in front of his more than one million followers to a hotel chain giving away sports tickets: “Comfort Inn is hooking up 3 days of it!” Meanwhile, Lamar Odom, the LA Lakers forward, tweeted to his nearly two million followers about the book Decoded by the hip-hop artist and entrepreneur Jay-Z: “My man Jay-Z ... only rapper to rewrite history without a pen. Until now.”
Of course, anything on Twitter is short-lived and reaches only a small, self-selecting audience. The research company eMarketer estimates that only 11 per cent of adult US internet users are registered with the micro-blogging website.
Still, celebrity tweets can be a way to grab a captive audience at a time when many people are skipping television advertisements with their digital video recorders. And paying someone to tweet is much cheaper than a traditional advertising campaign. Want a tweet from Khloe Kardashian? That will cost about $8,000, according to prices listed by the social media marketer Izea. Looking for a cheaper option? Ray J is about $2,300.
Izea, Ad.ly, twtMob and similar companies pair products with celebrities through a combination of software algorithms and Hollywood instinct. They say they use many metrics to gauge the effectiveness of a paid tweet, such as the number of times it is reposted by others.
When Ad.ly got Charlie Sheen to tweet for Interships.com in March, the actor was in the midst of getting fired from his sitcom Two and a Half Men over accusations of hard partying. Within an hour of Sheen’s first post, Internships.com got more than 95,000 clicks.
“I’m looking to hire a #winning INTERN with #TigerBlood,” tweeted Sheen, who had just recently signed up with Twitter and now has more than five million followers.
Dan Smith, the vice president of marketing for the website CampusLIVE, which helps advertisers connect with college students, hired Izea to help him get a celebrity to tweet about his company. Izea gave him a shortlist that included such names as the comedian Michael Ian Black and the rapper Bow Wow.
Smith polled his interns and they picked Lindsay Lohan, the actress most famous for her run-ins with the law. According to Smith, CampusLIVE paid Lohan about $3,500 for a tweet: “These challenges for college kids on #CampusLIVE are SO addicting!”
The post to Lohan’s 2.6 million fans drove about 4,500 clicks to the website, Smith said. But he also said he wasn’t sure if he’d use her again – not because of her troubles, but because he’s already tapped her fan base. His interns wanted to know if the comedian Will Ferrell was available. Said Smith: “That would be a cool one to get.”
For the record, Ferrell is not on Twitter, says his spokesman, Matt Labov, who adds that Twitter “handles” using his name are “imposters”.
Like any endorsement, celebrity tweets come with the risk that a star’s behaviour will not coincide with the company’s image. And of course, there’s a science to picking the right one: will consumers like it that their favourite rapper drives a minivan?
Twitter generally allows the paid tweets, as long as they’re posted manually and not automated by a computer program.
The US Federal Trade Commission suggests endorsers end their tweets with the # symbol, called a hash tag, followed by the letters “ad” or “spon,” short for “sponsored by,” to clarify that they are advertisements.
“The more transparent you are with your audience on Twitter, the more powerful that connection is,” said Rachael Horwitz, a company spokeswoman.
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