I'm not a NASCAR fan. I want to make that clear up front. Not that I have anything against the sport or its fans. They're top notch. Whether it was the noise, the smell or the copious amounts of sweaty flesh piled into bleachers alongside a curved highway, I never gravitated to the sport growing up. So it's just not for me.
But this post isn't about my personal experience with car racing, nor how my poor father was forced to leave the Daytona 500 when I was 8 because I had a nervous breakdown. It's about how drivers, crews and teams attract sponsorship to help them stay in business. And how this idea is relative to how normal people use Twitter.
Corporate sponsors routinely pay millions of dollars to slap their brand identity onto a billboard moving at 200 mph. They're willing to do this even though their moving billboard is just one of forty others. And that the race only lasts a few hours a week. But, if their driver is in contention - the car gets more air time and so having their brand in front of their audience is considered a win for the advertiser. Of course each car usually has other sponsors (as well as racing numbers) which cuts down on the available branding real estate, but the point is that advertisers are willing to pay big even for llimited 'eye time.'
Let's upshift over to Twitter. Currently, most people either utilize a generic Twitter background, or a custom background. And most of the backgrounds I've seen either promote a blog, reinforce a self-ordained SM expert or are just pretty and cool to look at. But make no mistake, these custom Twitter backgrounds are an advertising medium. Except we're selling ourselves. Our personalities. Our brands. Even when someone chooses to use a default background and an o_0 avatar, it says a lot about that person.
Now consider Twitter's popularity and how much time each of us actually spends there interacting with other people. I'm sure there are studies which might reveal that the average Twitterer spends 1.35 hours on the service every day (or something), but whatever that average is - I'll bet that it's probably more than :30 seconds. And what do you see when you're Twittering? Well, that depends. Because every Twitter client is different (Tweetdeck, Seemic, etc.) you could see any number of things. But you almost always see a person's avatar, and absolutely see a person's bio page when you click their name.
So there are two universal mediums within Twitter - the avatar and the Twitter background. And while some brands have started employing branded avatars (click here to see Olivier Blanchard's most excellent post on this topic) - this use is better left to corporate accounts that have a presence on Twitter. Which leaves the background.
Ok, back to NASCAR - where vibrant colors and logos fly around an oval track. Each logo with a dollar sign attached to it. A big dollar sign. If advertisers are willing to pay to sponsor a race team, how long before Home Depot buys space on your Twitter background because you're a Twittering handyman with 2,500 active followers? When someone clicks on your name, they're taken to a page where Home Depot is the top advertised brand on your background. Right above TRANE air conditioner and Scott's fertilizer logos. Someone might visit your page once, or people might do it routinely to link to your blog. But the point is - there are important eyeballs are on your page. And with every insightful or witty remark you make about how to clean gutters - you're essentially driving more people to your page.
Still not convinced? Consider professional cyclists. They're sponsored. How much air time do they get? Exactly. The idea here isn't that your tweets are more important than NASCAR or @lancearmstrong, but that with branding and advertising fighting for every possible impression they can get from you - there certainly must be some credibility in attaching themselves to micro-bloggers based on how people are using Twitter these days. And as far as ROI is concerned, sometimes it's important to align brands with people rather than worry about counting click-throughs (think about someone walking around in the mall with a Nike shirt on).
No, I don't think that we're at a point where any of us could retire based on the idea of selling advertising space to brands via your Twitter background, and sponsored avatars seem a bit spammy, but I do think that sponsored Tweeting is coming. Fast.