Opinion

PR man Tony Ahn on the merits, ethics and effectiveness of sponsored celebrity tweeting

Tony AhnA month or so ago, PR agency owner Tony Ahn revealed the processes and practices behind writing Wikipedia pages for celebrities and brands. This time, he talks to Mumbrella about sponsored celebrity tweeting.

In this interview with Mumbrella Asia’s editor Robin Hicks from the Ad Summit in the Philippines, the Manila-based founder of Tony Ahn & Co talked about the dark art and measurable science of paid celebrity tweeting.

Your idea to pay celebrities to tweet for brands was inspired by the influencer marketing movement. Tell us about that.

Influencer marketing is massive at the moment, particularly in the Philippines. Besides sourcing celebrities, some of what we do is find non-famous influencers (like subject matter experts and leaders). It’s like finding the popular kids in school, and getting them to talk on your behalf.

Where did the celebrity tweet model come from?

The idea grew out of blogging and bloggers getting paid to write about brands. There is a law in the US where a blogger who accepts anything in kind has to disclose it. But there’s nothing like that here in the Philippines. Twitter is classified as a microblog, and influencer marketing on a microblog is called a “microendorsement.”

What’s the difference between influencer marketing in the US and Asia, particularly where you are based, in the Philippines?

Robin Padilla

Robin Padilla

I’ll give you an example. In the US, if you’re marketing a restaurant and paid, say, Tom Cruise to eat there, it wouldn’t persuade a lot of people to eat there too. But in the Philippines, if you got [action movie star] Robin Padilla to eat at the restaurant, the place would be packed out. Filipinos see it as aspirational. It’s a very common marketing strategy to get celebrities to come to nightclubs, bars, and restaurants, and have the press there to report on it, as everyone will think it’s the cool place to go.

Talk us through the process of celebrity tweeting.

The brand comes to us and says, we have a product we want to promote, and here’s our target demographic. Sometimes they ask for specific influencers. They give us a budget. We contact the influencers. Our first question to the celebrity is, are you interested in the product? If so, we discuss the number of tweets and the campaign period. We say we can offer you so many thousand pesos for so many tweets. It’s a back and forth negotiation.

Some offer lower rates because they want to work with us frequently and know offering a better value to our brands means we will recommend them more often. I have some influencers who are working all the time; we tend to contact twice as many influencers as we need in any given campaign. Then we go to the client with a menu of options. Clients can see the influencer name, the rate, and the number of followers, which allows them to determine relative value of each influencer, and then they make the final selection on which ones we hire. Next we write the tweets, schedule them and put them out. The influencers get paid after we’re paid by the brand/agency.

How much do you pay a celebrity to tweet?

A niche endorser, like an influencer among motorcycle enthusiasts, might get around 4-5000 pesos (US$91-US$114) per tweet if they have around 1,000 followers. That seems like a high price, but it is because the niche is so specialized. Its not easy to find a direct word-of-mouth pipeline to 1000 Filipino motorcycle enthusiasts. We charge a service fee of 17.65 per cent to the client on top of that. The next level up is a general interest celebrity – not a movie star, but someone like a presenter on a morning TV show who has around 60,000 Twitter followers – they would get around 8,000 pesos (US$182) per tweet. The next level is a well-known celebrity, who has around 500,000 twitter followers – they can command 20,000 pesos (US$456) a tweet. If you are a Twillionaire, with more than 1m twitter followers, you can command around 35,000 pesos (US$800) a tweet or more. The model scales well. It’s much cheaper to get one big guy with a million followers than ten little guys who altogether add up to a million.

What do you say to people who say that celebrity tweeting is unethical and misleading?

There a few different perspectives on this. What’s right for one culture is not necessarily right for another. We haven’t had any cases where people have felt that a celebrity was being dishonest by endorsing something on Twitter. If you get an actress with pretty hair to do a hair product endorsement on TV, that not seen as suspect, is it? With shampoo commercials, you never see hair like that in real life. In the Philippines, everyone knows people are paid to endorse things. Much of it is very blatant with no attempt to make the endorsement look natural.

But on Twitter, there’s no delineation between sponsored and regular content…

The ethical way to do it is to find a celebrity who already likes the product, then they will be tweeting views that are genuine. We don’t want people who will do anything as long as we pay them. We try very hard to match endorsers with the product or brand, so what they say is something they would normally tell a friend.

What if consumers find out that a celebrity has been paid to tweet something, which has happened in Australia two years ago to the detriment of the brand?

I don’t think that that matters in the Philippines. I think much of the time they already know. It’s to the point where I’m seeing #notapaidendorsement as a hashtag when a celebrity organically tweets about something they like. Filipinos trust the brands that they like. So if that celebrity says “I really like this product, it’s great,” people will believe them. We never want to be in a position to mislead the public, so that’s why we’re careful to get people who actually like the products they are endorsing.

How do you measure the effectiveness of a celebrity tweet?

Tracking system StarNet

Tony Ahn & Co’s influencer platform StarNet

We sell Twitter, Instagram and Facebook posts and can track all three. We track the tweets, the retweets, the impressions (how many people have seen it), hashtags and responses. We deliver this information in a graphical way to a client, who can see it in real-time; our influencer tweeting platform is called StarNet. We work for big international brands, like KFC, and local ones, like major banks. We supply two thirds of the agencies in town including MediaCom, MRM, Mindshare, Zenith Optimedia and Ogilvy.

What’s the best frequency for paid tweets?

Influencers are paid per tweet, so stuffing tweets into a small amount of time is only effective for a rapidly upcoming event. Nobody stares at twitter for eight hours, so it’s best to go for a spread of tweets through the day or week, depending on what the brand has paid for.

Are they already endorsers who offer their services, or do you have to go out and get them?

There are a few influencers who choose not to do microendorsements. One in particular will only do them as part of a multimillion peso full endorsement package that includes print and personal appearances. But ninety-nine percent are interested once we approach them. Many have done this work before and so already have an idea of their market value. Others need our help to determine fair rates. And microendorsements prove capitalism works: Influencers that provide a better value get more work than ones who don’t.

Occasionally we’ll talk to a celebrity that gives us a figure, and we’ll say “If you want us to take this number to the client, we will, but you need to know that there are other influencers that have more followers and are more popular than you, who are asking for less money.” Some of the celebrities will adjust their rates to be more competitive. Others say, “That’s what I’m worth.” Those ones usually get passed over by the clients.

Do celebrities write the tweets themselves?

We have copywriters who write the tweets, but sometimes the celebrities do it themselves. A copywriter will read the celebrity’s last 100 tweets and make sure that the endorsed tweets are written in their voice, that is, sound like something they would normally say. The celebrity has to approve it, as does the client. Then we supply the influencer with the editorial calendar of approved tweets, the dates/times, and we will call the celebrity to remind them 15 minutes before they should tweet.

Can you give us an example of a celebrity tweet?

Giselle Töngi tweet for OlaySure, this one (right) is by [Filipino-American actress and model] Giselle Tongi for Olay.

What makes the perfect celebrity endorser?

Someone who is already familiar with the product/brand and enthusiastic about it. Besides getting better tweets, they often give more competitive rates, because they want it. Celebrities perceive microendorsing certain brands as good for their image/career. Getting the right fit between brand and celebrity is very important, probably more important than the number of followers an endorser has.

Troy Montero and Aubrey Miles

Troy Montero and Aubrey Miles

An example of that is Troy Montero, an actor whose partner is actress Aubrey Miles. They are both really athletic, which is reinforced by the fact that they do gym endorsements. This makes them a good fit for fitness products and events. They also have a child together and that makes them a great fit for brands appealing to “active families.” If Jamba Juice came to us, they’d be the first ones we’d suggest. We try hard to match the product with the lifestyle.

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