Twitter lifts coronavirus ad ban, allowing brands to mention efforts in pandemic
Twitter has removed its blanket ban on ads that mention coronavirus and is now allowing marketers to include their pandemic responses in paid tweets, a move that comes in the face of a global pandemic where many brands’ messages are being shaped by their products and services during the crisis.
The tech giant quietly updated the policies this week, and users on the platform immediately started seeing the results. Brands like UPS, Starbucks and Uber have promoted tweets that mention the pandemic. The move represents a complete reversal of its decision to ban advertising that mentions coronavirus or COVID-19, a policy that has been tried by Google and others to stop the spread of disinformation and opportunism.
However, as the pandemic continues to dominate the daily discussion, any position to prevent all advertising that touches on the subject has become untenable.
“It’s a shift that we’re making from an ads policy perspective because we believe that the messaging that brands and businesses can provide to the world and provide to consumers are going to be positively received,” says Sarah Personette, head of Twitter client solutions. “And they’re going to be positively received because they are talking about what they as brands and businesses are doing themselves in the face of this crisis, and also what their employees and customers need to understand or be informed about in the face of this crisis.”
Last month, Twitter had issued gudielines for brands to appropriately create posts about coronavirus and how they should communicate, but its policies prohibited them from promoting those conversations to reach wider audiences through paid campaigns.
Twitter still has policies that will regulate who is allowed to advertise with mentions of the pandemic and how they can discuss it. Twitter says only “managed clients” can mention coronavirus, which means only brands with a direct relationship with the company's ads team can run these types of promoted tweets. Those advertisers can mention coronavirus in two manners: To promote how business practices have changed to adapt to coronavirus or to show support for employees and customers, Twitter's new guidelines say.
Advertisers that use Twitter's automated self-serve ad program are not cleared to advertise in this way, according to the new guidelines. Also, Twitter won’t allow posts that promote products like fake cures, hand sanitizers or face masks, or posts offering false information related to coronavirus or any other topic.
Twitter is telling brands they can include mentions of COVID-19 if they keep it optimistic, informative and supportive of the community. Personette pointed to campaigns that launched this week from Uber, which promoted the hashtag “move what matters,” and UPS’s message to employees, “thanks for delivering.”
“Covid and the coronavirus are happening in real-time in society today,” Personette says. “And we want to make sure that they can scale and share these messages in the most brand safe way possible.”
Twitter is scheduled to report its first-quarter advertising results at the end of the month, and recently the company updated its guidance for investors to reflect its changing revenue prospects. The company expects to perform worse than it initially forecasted, as do some of its internet rivals, including Facebook, because advertising has been hurt by the pandemic. Personette says that the revenue guidance was not related to last month’s decision to block advertising around coronavirus. At that point, there would not have been enough advertising around the virus to affect the bottom line when it was banned, Personette say. Also, Personette says the decision to open up COVID-19 advertising messages was unrelated to revenue concerns.
“The two things are not related,” Personette says. “The decision originally didn’t impact revenue. I think clients were still trying to understand at the start of the virus how to advertise.”
The entire internet advertising industry has contended with the coronavirus pandemic, with technology platforms responding to price-gouging entrepreneurs and bad actors who promote fake news. And it’s not just paid advertising, just this week, Facebook and Twitter removed posts from Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro for downplaying the impact of the virus.
Also, publishers have been affected by brands that avoid their websites when their pages are full of coronavirus news, because of brand safety measures that automatically blacklist sensitive subjects.
On Thursday, Google reversed a policy that banned political ads that mention coronavirus. “COVID-19 is becoming an important part of everyday conversation, including a relevant topic in political discourse,” a Google spokesperson told Bloomberg News. “We’re planning to allow more advertisers to run ads related to COVID-19.”
Facebook also has been adjusting ads policies. This week, the social network told advertisers they can’t set goals of sending people to stores, a popular ad targeting option, to comply with the new quarantine norms.
“We’re definitely watching that,” said Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s VP of global marketing solutions, in an interview with Ad Age earlier this week. “We have an ability for advertisers to drive traffic to a stores, that’s one of their ad objectives, and very few are using that. We’re watching use cases of all of our products to ensure that people are not getting misleading or inaccurate information, to the best of our ability.”