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Over the past 18 months or so, Twit­ter has pro­duced three live video shows. Last May it launched its first, a Ra­madan-themed se­ries called #HawanahZein, pro­duced by Step Group’s Yal­laFeed. Since then, it has broad­cast #Yal­laGoal dur­ing the World Cup, in as­so­ci­a­tion with foot­ball plat­form Goal, and #Fron­tRow to cover the sea­son of fash­ion weeks in New York, Lon­don, Mi­lan and Paris, in part­ner­ship with Sayi­daty.

The so­cial me­dia plat­form’s re­gional man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Ben­jamin Am­pen says: “Video has been one of our pri­or­i­ties for a while now. When you think about Twit­ter be­ing ‘what’s hap­pen­ing’ and what peo­ple are talk­ing about, it had been hap­pen­ing in the form of text un­til then. Video in the last cou­ple of years is ba­si­cally in­creas­ing.”

How­ever, the shows are not just to tell view­ers what’s hap­pen­ing in the worlds of Ra­madan, foot­ball and fash­ion. They are also rev­enue gen­er­a­tors, al­low­ing mar­keters to not only po­si­tion their brands next to top­ics that res­onate with their cus­tomers but also to ac­tively en­gage with users.

One ad­ver­tiser that has been on board from the start is global FMCG gi­ant Unilever. Re­gional di­rec­tor of me­dia and dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion Asad Rehman says that as one of the big­gest dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ers in the re­gion, it makes sense for Unilever to be ground­break­ing.

“Part­ner­ing with Twit­ter on do­ing new stuff is ex­tremely im­por­tant for us, and the re­sponse we’ve had from the plat­form is un­be­liev­able,” he says. “If we say we want to do some­thing new, th­ese guys come up with some re­ally in­ter­est­ing things.”

Twit­ter’s user base is a big pull. “We go af­ter where the au­di­ences are,” says Rehman. “Twit­ter’s reach in Saudi is un­par­al­leled in some of the other mar­kets; we don’t see that kind of pen­e­tra­tion for this plat­form any­where else in the world. So from our per­spec­tive, it de­liv­ers on quite a few fronts: con­tent, pur­pose­ful con­ver­sa­tions, ob­vi­ously reach and au­di­ences, so it’s a very in­ter­est­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion.”

He says that when it comes to de­cid­ing which of Unilever’s many brands to align with the shows, “quite a few fac­tors” can af­fect that de­ci­sion. The choice could be guided by a cat­e­gory fit (such as hair care range Tre­semme align­ing with fash­ion), a pur­pose fit (with Lip­ton tea em­pha­sis­ing its mean­ing­ful side around Ra­madan) or prod­uct fo­cused (de­odor­ant brand Rex­ona was an ob­vi­ous fit for the World Cup).

Am­pen says that when Twit­ter de­cides what show to launch next, there is lit­tle left to chance.

“When it comes to what kind of con­tent pro­gram­ming we have on Twit­ter, what kind of con­tent we look at, it is re­ally im­por­tant that we don’t guess; we just lis­ten.”

He ex­plains: “On Twit­ter, the only pub­lic and con­ver­sa­tional open plat­form out there, we have a lot of con­ver­sa­tions and trends hap­pen­ing ev­ery day. It is rel­a­tively easy for us to work with great part­ners like Unilever to see what peo­ple are talk­ing about. So in­stead of us, as a plat­form, push­ing and im­pos­ing things on our users and on ad­ver­tis­ers, we just look at past

data and iden­tify that Ra­madan or fash­ion, for ex­am­ple, is be­ing dis­cussed a lot in the re­gion. That’s how we can go to a pre­mium fash­ion part­ner like Sayi­daty and bring that all to­gether.”

Unilever’s ap­proach to its par­tic­i­pa­tion with the shows has evolved since #HawanahZein, says Rehman.

“When we first did a live feed it was a lot more pre-planned and cu­rated, al­most like shoot­ing some­thing that you’ve planned to death,” he says. “Now what we’re do­ing with Twit­ter is we are craft­ing con­tent as we are get­ting in­sights from the plat­form and as we’re lis­ten­ing to con­sumers. So some­times, if you’ve done one show, you don’t know what you’re go­ing to talk about in the next show un­til you see what con­sumers are talk­ing about. We’ve be­come more in-the-mo­ment.”

There have been learn­ings from a prod­uct per­spec­tive as well. Ini­tially Twit­ter and Unilever tried work­ing with mid-roll ads when the con­tent was long enough to sand­wich a short video, says Am­pen. “In terms of ef­fi­ciency, pre-roll worked bet­ter from an ad­ver­tiser’s per­spec­tive, so we fo­cused more on pre-roll when it comes to live shows,” he says. “This is [now] the pri­mary for­mat.”

The part­ner­ship has found short-form ad­ver­tis­ing works best on Twit­ter, and cites re­search by Publi­cis Me­dia that found six sec­onds is “the magic num­ber”.

Am­pen says that even in such a short time slot, ad­ver­tis­ers should get the prod­uct in early: “The first frames are very im­por­tant, so from a pure con­tent mes­sag­ing per­spec­tive, work­ing with ad­ver­tis­ers to make sure that you use your first frame to push a mes­sage, hav­ing the brand up front, is key in the pre-roll.”

Less im­por­tant is mu­sic and voice-over, he adds. “Sound doesn’t re­ally mat­ter, as long as you put your mes­sage in the first sec­ond. How do you com­mu­ni­cate vis­ually through this video? How you com­mu­ni­cate vis­ually can be through the use of cap­tions and strong im­ages.”

Brand in­te­gra­tion is also part of Unilever’s strat­egy, on top of those video ads. Dur­ing #HawanahZein, for ex­am­ple, the Lip­ton brand was prom­i­nent while a jour­nal­ist was in­ter­view­ing peo­ple on the street talk­ing about spe­cial mo­ments within Ra­madan.

The cam­paign also tied in with the tea brand’s ac­ti­va­tions in malls and its tele­vi­sion pres­ence dur­ing the Holy Month, rather than be­ing a stand-alone mar­ket­ing silo. Rather, it al­lows con­ver­sa­tions that can ref­er­ence all as­pects of the brand’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

When Cam­paign sug­gests that Twit­ter’s live video pro­gram­ming is on a roll, Rehman says: “They are on a roll; we’re on a pre-roll.”

Am­pen says fu­ture shows will still be based on data, re­search and feed­back. “When it comes to pro­gram­ming con­tent, we are not guess­ing,” he says. “We are lis­ten­ing to what’s be­ing talked about and dis­cussed on the plat­form, and what’s be­ing dis­cussed in ad­ver­tis­ers’ meet­ings and when we talk to pub­lish­ers.”

How­ever, the three shows so far have been suc­cess­ful, and Am­pen sug­gests we might ex­pect more in the same vein. There will be Ra­madan again, there will be fash­ion weeks and, while there might not be a World Cup in 2019, there will still be foot­ball.

But the op­tions are end­less. With the right pub­lisher on board, the three-way part­ner­ship model Twit­ter has de­vel­oped could take on any topic with an au­di­ence Unilever or an­other ad­ver­tiser wants to reach.

And ad­ver­tis­ers will be reach­ing peo­ple in real time, blend­ing struc­ture with spon­tane­ity. Rehman says the live el­e­ment is “the acid test of what may be rel­e­vant to the au­di­ences”.

“There will al­ways be a planned frame­work, some­thing that al­lows you to sing along,” he says. “Imag­ine a con­cert where a brand sings a line and then pushes the mic over to the au­di­ence and then they start singing. That’s es­sen­tially what we do on Twit­ter: we start the song and then we let the au­di­ence join in.”

Ben­jamin Am­pen

Asad Rehman

Live stream­ing: (Clock­wise from above) #Yal­laGoal, #HawanahZein and #Fron­tRow

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