WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell's has made repeated statements – most recently to the Harvard Business Review in March – that Twitter and Facebook are venues for customer relationship management, not ads.
Today's announcement is not proof of any contradiction on the part of WPP or change in Sorrell's views on social media and advertising. For the most part, this is about using Twitter as an audience analytics tool for WPP's clients. Whether it becomes something deeper will take further development of Twitter's platform.
In a statement, Sorrell described the partnership as wide-ranging and will "ensure that Twitter data is a key ingredient in many of our disciplines."
As Dan Salmon, the BMO Capital Markets analyst, pointed out in a research note, WPP executives speaking at a recent "investors day" event made clear that the future of agencies includes building new and stronger relationships with technology companies.
"The data and analytics-oriented partnership again shows the evolution of agencies away from advertising services only toward those focused on technology to drive services such as product development, ecommerce, IT services and analytics," Salmon said.
At the same time the agencies are trying to evolve, Twitter is trying to broaden its ad-related offering beyond what's possible in 140 characters. In January, for example, video ad provider Ooyala began placing videos within tweets on behalf of its publisher clients like ESPN and others. That sort of model has more to do with traditional advertising than anything else Twitter has done.
More recently, Twitter announced "lead generation cards," a means for brands to capture contact information through forms embeddable within tweets. And Bloomberg reported on rumored plans for a CRM matching offering, à la Facebook's Custom Audiences offering.
By bringing WPP and Starcom into the fold, it's probably just a matter of time before the other major shops sign their own arrangements. Aside from the basic use of its data, Twitter also holds the promise of being an original canvas for agencies to improve their mobile advertising strategies, since the microblog is so strongly tied to activity on users' smartphones.
By demonstrating Twitter's value to the agencies' major marketers, Twitter's appeal can also be enhanced to its self-serve ad business, which it opened to all advertisers big and small last month. Between the broader self-serve ad option and the major data alliances with the agencies, Twitter has finally set the stage for building out its nascent "hashtag targeting" functions, presenting itself as a clearer social media alternative to Facebook's mobile and exchange offerings.