I’m not betting on Twitter’s ad model

If ever a sport was made for Twitter, it was cricket.

The banality of the various commentary teams combined with the snail’s-pace nature of the game creates the perfect opportunity for some hilarious and often insightful social media confabulation.

As long as you like all the betting ads.

This summer it was impossible to load up the #AUSvENG hashtag without encountering a promoted tweet about the odds on Mitchell Johnston’s mo hitting a four before the tea break.

I’m not going to go on a rant about online betting, except to say that the techniques used by online betting agencies are not only spammy and rapacious, but border on predatory.

When I first started seeing these ads, I simply blocked them – like I do with any spammer on Twitter. It turns out that blocking a user on Twitter not only means that you won’t see their tweets – it also ensures that you won’t see their ads (which are simply promoted versions of their tweets, shown to you even if you don’t follow that particular user).

After speaking with a few people about it, the common feedback was, “Yeah I can’t stand those ads. I’d love to block them all”. So I built an app – Twadblock – to allow anyone to easily do exactly that.

Twitter is a $30B company, with revenues almost entirely reliant on advertising. And yet it’s that easy to block its revenue stream – using functionality that’s built into the platform itself.

We’ve recently seen massive advancements in advertising technology: hyper-targeted, auction-based, real-time ad platforms promise advertisers better targeting and ROI, and users less irrelevant and disruptive ads.

But actual results definitely do vary. What we’ve actually witnessed is the proliferation of betting, fad diet, and dating ads – predatory industries that win auctions because they can directly tie advertising investment to suckers handing over their credit card numbers without even needing to put on a pair of pants.

Advertising needs new models – brands, publishers, and agencies are screaming for it. Important platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook will need these new models to survive, particularly now they are public companies sitting outside the revenue-less bubble of Silicon Valley VC.

I’m not entirely sure what these new models will look like, but I do hope 2014 is the year we finally see true innovation, and I stop seeing irrelevant betting ads.

- February 2014