The time warp to pre-Snooki came courtesy of a rapidly growing marketing space: celebrities' Twitter streams. (The "Prom" campaign was created for a Disney movie of the same name.) Since launching 18 months ago, Ad.ly, a company that manages celebrity endorsements on Twitter, has created more than 24,000 sponsored tweets for 150 companies, working with celebrities like Snoop Dogg, Kim Kardashian and Charlie Sheen to promote everything from Toyota to hair volumizing products to, most famously in the case of Sheen, internships.com.
According to Ad.ly CEO Arnie Gullov-Singh, using a celebrity's Twitter stream speaks directly to their million-plus followers, without the long-term commitment of a traditional endorsement deal. "If you were doing a deal across [media], you want a spokesperson for 90 days or a spokesperson for a year," he says. "Well, what happens if that person performs badly, or if that person, God forbid, ends up on the wrong side of the tabloids? The great thing about doing it with social media is that it's really just right there and then, and the results are very measurable."
Or in the case of Ad.ly's celebrities, controversy often helps. Sheen, who signed onto Twitter through Ad.ly after his spectacular meltdown, quickly accumulated millions of followers, breaking a Guinness World Record in the process. And it's the instant access to eyeballs - not the celebrity himself - that Ad.ly sells to its advertisers. "One of the things we've seen come up with advertisers is we show them a list of celebrities and they get emotional about who's on the list," says Gullov-Singh. "They say, 'That person's not a good fit,' or 'I want this other person'... and that's a natural reaction. What we've been able to do, though, is show advertisers that it's not really about the messenger. It's about the message." Ad.ly's database holds more than 1,200 personalities willing to tweet sponsored content to their fans (compensation varies depending on the celebrity and their followers). After a dating-site-like matchup session between client and celebrity to pair message with the demographics of a celebrity's fan base, an in-house copywriting team creates all copy for the celebrity to tweet. "We have a [technology] platform that helps us identify which celebrities and which people on Twitter, would be a good fit for our product right now," Gullov-Singh says. "[But we also] spend time understanding celebrities' interests, what kind of endorsement deals they've done in the past, what kinds of brands they really use and what they're passionate about. It's essentially using data to figure out who are the most influential people online - who are the authorities - and then also using human relationships to understand who they are and where value can be created."
Ad.ly's network-matching concept has several major brands drinking the Tiger Blood - especially in the post-Sheen era. The internships.com Twitter ad, Ad.ly's most high-profile pairing to date, netted 95,000 clicks - in just one hour - not to mention endless media coverage. "That kind of exposure you don't get outside the Super Bowl," Gullov-Singh says. "And certainly it didn't cost [the advertiser] $3.5 million."