Claire Beale On Advertising: Amid all the jitters, Twitter is the winner

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The Independent Online

Will anyone in advertising be sorry to see the back of 2009? No one at the sharp end of commercial media. If your business relied on advertising for its revenues this year, you've almost certainly been screwed.

Advertising revenue ... well, you know the story: down, down, down. Newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, posters, the web: content has been trimmed, jobs have been lost, quality has suffered. So perhaps it's not surprising that the real media success story of 2009 has been a medium that's barely sniffed the skirts of the ad industry. Twitter.

A mere whisper 12 months ago, Twitter has become the media noise of the year. Sixty million people worldwide are now regular users and Twitter has not only provided us with a new platform for news, it's also created it. From David Cameron's "too many Tweets make a Twat" to reassuring a concerned world that Peaches Geldof was unscathed after her car crashed on the way to Disneyland last week, Twitter is making headlines.

But we're here to talk about advertising and the ad industry has spent the past 12 months wondering if, when and how Twitter has a commercial value. Well, last week Dell gave adland an answer. The computer giant announced it's made $6.5m from exploiting Twitter for commercial gain.

Dell gave us a taster of its success back in June, revealing it had notched up revenues of $3m from Twitter over the last couple of years. Less than six months later those revenues have more than doubled. It won't stop there.

The computer company is using Twitter for all the usual customer interaction and relationship building you'd expect of any brand engaging in social media now. Basic. But it's also operating on a cruder, simpler level. Go to @DellOutlet, which has close to 1.5 million followers, and you'll find daily money-off offers that frequently get retweeted (and therefore endorsed) so that they spread out well beyond Dell's own fanbase.

Tweeters like that. Last month a study of 3,000 consumers conducted by Performics and ROI Research found that 44 per cent of Twitter users are happy to be alerted about promotions and special offers by the site. And, anyway, 44 per cent of them had already used Twitter to recommend a brand or a product, and 48 per cent had responded to an ad they'd seen on the microblog.

As portentous as this all sounds, it's not clear whether Twitter is actually delivering new additional revenue for the early-adopter advertisers who use it. Is Twitter nudging consumers into purchases and brand choices they wouldn't otherwise have made? As other advertisers muscle in on the opportunities, Twitter-generated promotions like Dell's could become nothing better than junk marketing; users will kick back if they feel exploited.

But you'd be hard pushed to find a big brand right now that isn't gnawing at the question of how it embraces the Twitter phenomenon. And not just because of its popularity; in a marketing world where budgets are frozen or shrinking, Twitter offers a free platform. For the moment. Twitter itself is gnawing away at the question of how to monetise advertisers on its site. Offering brands more detailed profile data on the people following them is one option. Location-based geo-tagging could also open up some interesting revenue streams.

We can be sure of a few things though. Twitter is showing no sign of waning, so advertisers' interest is mounting and Biz Stone and his team will find ways to make money from it all. Then all Twitter needs to do is pray its popularity holds until adland's economic fortunes turn.

Best in Show: Drench CHI

Lots of people like little furry animals. Not me. And anthropomorphism makes me want to stamp on a Beatrix Potter compendium. Which makes being a parent that bit harder.

So the new Drench ad by CHI is a challenge. It has hamsters in it. Playing musical instruments. Actually I think they're sucking on some chocolate spread smeared on weeny saxophones and trumpets. But the effect is very good.

In fact, people with a more cutesy cuddly side than me love this ad. The hamsters have Drench instead of ordinary water in their cage. It improves performance, hence their jazzy jamming session. And even I can see that nice people might find it charming and sweet and memorable.