WPP’s Sorrell says Twitter is a “PR medium” not an advertising one

Sir Martin Sorrell: Twitter is a PR mediumSir Martin Sorrell, the WPP Group chief executive, has been talking to the Harvard Business Review about everything from the state of the advertising business, to social media and emerging technology.

His interview takes in such topics as programmable T-shirts and Google Glass, and he also had a few things to say about Facebook and Twitter, and why he doesn’t think they are advertising media.

His comments come a week after Twitter launched its advertising API, which could significantly boost the number of advertisers using Twitter and their ability to manage campaigns.

Sorrell has spoken before about Facebook, admitting it gets him in trouble, and how he doesn’t see it as an advertising medium. He reiterated those comments, adding his thoughts on Twitter too.

His argument is that Twitter is a PR medium and that it lacks depth. He is obviously not the first to make such comments, but what he says carries weight even if, personally speaking, I think he’s wrong.

Twitter has gained much depth over the past year as it has allowed expanded tweets, video and pictures all to be viewed within the tweet. Here’s what he had to say:

Sorrell on Twitter:

I’m going to get myself shot again. I think it’s a PR medium. Again, it’s very effective word of mouth. If you look at the Olympics in London, the big winner was Twitter. It wasn’t Facebook. It wasn’t even Google. We did analyses of the Twitter feeds every day, and it’s very, very potent. But—and this is the old fart speaking—I think because it’s limited in terms of number of characters, it reduces communication to superficialities and lacks depth.

Oreo made a splash during the Super Bowl with a clever tweet during the blackout. Does something like that move the needle, or is it just something we talk about for a tiny cycle and then forget?

Buzz is important. So in the context of the Super Bowl, being able to respond to the blackout within four minutes with the dunking tweet is just good for generating buzz. We’ve worked on political campaigns where that kind of responsiveness is important, and it worked here too. It was a very good move.

Sorrell: on Facebook an as effective advertising medium?

I get myself in deep doo-doo when I say this, but Facebook to my mind is not an advertising medium. It is a branding medium. So if I can get you to say something nice about WPP or me or one of our companies on Facebook to your wife, your friends, or whoever, that’s good. But it’s a long-term mechanism. Compare that with Google. Say you’re searching for a car: We know that up to 90% of car purchases in the U.S. are search-influenced. Depending on where you are in the purchase cycle, that number one ranking on Google seems more important than a Facebook “like.” This doesn’t deny the potency of Facebook. But it has to be seen in the context of a long continuum of brand building.

You can read the full interview with Sorrell on the HBR here.