Twitter Shows Off Bluefin Labs Buy with New TV Ad Targeting

When Twitter landed in Boston earlier this year it didn’t mess around, spending around $200 million for two startups. And we’re starting to see more of the payoff for that expensive shopping trip.

Today, as part of its efforts to get a piece of the TV advertising action, Twitter pitched a new program that lets ad buyers pair Twitter ads with the commercials they’re already running on the tube.

The San Francisco-based social media company does that by combining two streams of data: what’s being seen on TV across the country at any given moment, and what’s being said about those programs (and commercials, presumably) on Twitter. It’s an attempt to put some hard numbers into the behavior known as “second screening,” which just means flipping through your smartphone or tablet while the TV’s on.

That slick bit of data-sorting is the brainchild of Bluefin Labs, the MIT-bred startup that Twitter bought in its one-two punch to establish a Boston-area office. As we reported in February, Twitter paid just under $100 million for Bluefin Labs, and more than $100 million for Crashlytics, the mobile-app analytics startup that became the other half of Twitter Boston.

In a blog post today, Bluefin co-founder (now Twitter product manager) Michael Fleischman outlined how Twitter hopes to use the TV-and-tweets data combination to earn more advertising cash. Since it can tell when an advertiser’s commercials are running and figure out which people are talking about that show in real time, Twitter says it can help advertisers send additional ads to Twitter users who may have recently seen a brand’s commercial.

Twitter says this is a way for advertisers to “continue the conversations they start with their TV advertising.” The promo video shows some imagined uses that probably seem intriguing to an ad shop: following up a TV campaign with some short Vine videos and other multimedia elements that play off the original TV message.

For the user, that means a TV commercial might wind up chasing you down elsewhere—which could be fun or cute if the creative aspects are done right, and potentially annoying if it just seems like endless badgering.

Interestingly, for all the analytical prowess Twitter is banking on here, there’s still an obvious gap in how precisely it can monitor a user’s TV-watching habits—just because someone’s tweeting about that latest episode of Mad Men doesn’t mean they paid any attention to the Lincoln commercial that ran alongside it. “We believe a user engaged enough with a TV show to tweet about it very likely saw the commercials as well,” the company says in its blog post.

True enough, but there’s another aspect that Twitter isn’t addressing directly. If people are zoning out during the commercials and checking out Twitter instead, you might be able to plant an ad right in their face anyway.

That surely has a lot to do with why Twitter is pitching its TV-related products as an addition to TV budgets, and something that can multiply the effectiveness of the good old TV commercial. That, and the fact that TV advertising was a $54 billion business last year, controlled by a very small group of players. Twitter, meanwhile, is estimated by third parties to be on pace for about $580 million in revenue this year.

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