Pinterest's new head of brand: 'I'm here to expand it globally'

David Rubin may seem an odd choice to handle Pinterest’s image. For starters, he’s a man.David Rubin Pinterest

Pinterest’s user base is, of course, predominantly female. Which makes Rubin — who was hired last week as Pinterest’s first head of brand — an interesting choice given that his last job was as senior vp of marketing at Unilever, where he worked on Axe, the ultra-masculine men’s body care brand that some have criticized as misogynistic. And having pinned only 22 items on Pinterest, Rubin is hardly a Pinterest power user.

But that kind of perspective may serve Rubin well as he tries to expand Pinterest’s user base. If Pinterest wants users to realize the platform can be used for more than just wedding planning and kitchen remodeling, a different frame of mind might help.

“Growth is my mandate,” Rubin told Digiday. “There’s a large and incredibly committed user base. Expanding that into more audiences and expanding it globally is why I am here.”

That means, at least in part, bringing more men to Pinterest. While there’s a small contingent of highly active male pinners, Pinterest’s user base is still 71.5 percent female, according to comScore. Other major platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr have far more gender-balanced user bases.

“David Rubin is really big on using data — sociological, behavioral, etc. — to tap into what motivates people,” DigitasLBi’s group director of social and content strategy Jill Sherman told Digiday. “And that’s where Pinterest is failing with men. They haven’t cracked the motivation code. How to attract men and keep them using the platform beyond saving things that pique their interest.”

Sherman added that expanding Pinterest’s user base will be critical to the business’s burgeoning ads business, and that new features like guided search and interest following will make Pinterest more palatable to those currently not using it. No wonder, then, that the marketing video for Pinterest guided search shows how the platform can be beneficial to men in four of its six storylines.

Lindsay Williams, vp of media and analytics at Rokkan, is more generally skeptical about whether people will use Pinterest’s search feature.

“Convincing anyone, male or female, to visit Pinterest for the purposes of ‘finding’ something specific (i.e., a watch), still feels like a new behavior and is largely owned by search engines and other social networks,” Williams said.

It’s Rubin’s mandate to make more people aware of these features and how to best use them, making Pinterest more broadly appealing in the process.

“This is a fantastic brand already,” Rubin said. “My job is to help unlock that for more people, more often.”

That means becoming more like Facebook and Twitter, which, given the success of their ads businesses, makes sense.

“You either go broad or you go deep. You either try to become a single network and command enough audience reach as possible like Twitter and Facebook, or try to create more niche, private communities that aren’t as large and open,” Chris Bowler, global vp of social media at Razorfish said.

The risk of trying to cater to wider swatch of user, however, is diluting your brand and alienating the diehards who have been with it from its infancy.

“There’s always risk when trying to broaden a brand’s appeal,” Sherman added. “But Pinterest wants to evolve into a platform that we use in our daily lives, like Facebook and Twitter. So, they’re focusing on men in a bigger way. From their perspective, who better to plan a vacation or home remodel with than your spouse, right?”