Newly-public Pinterest still is playing catch up when it comes to media buyers — with new tools and improvements in an effort to go beyond an awareness platform to one that marketers can use to actually track and attribute sales. 

Sources say the platform is now beta-testing a new tool that allows buyers to share their conversion data with the platform. That, along with the addition of a shopping specialty and updates like the integration of product catalogs to automatically generate pins, has buyers feeling more optimistic about spending ad dollars there.

The new tools and tweaks to its backend are meant to make the media buying experience more appealing as Pinterest grows its ads business. Overall, buyers say the platform is getting better, especially for categories like retail, beauty, travel and CPG, but that there’s more work to do as it can still be frustrating and confusing to navigate.

By giving buyers more measurement tools and education, Pinterest is looking to shed its reputation as simply an upper funnel platform, meant for brand awareness.

The yet-to-be-named tool, which has been in beta since the second quarter of 2019, gives buyers the opportunity to share their conversion data, have the company analyze it and report where Pinterest and other channels overlap, according to media buyers.

Pinterest typically has a longer lead time over other social platforms and this tool may help media buyers grapple with that. Users, or Pinners, as the company calls them, are generally planners who use Pinterest as a way to figure out what they need for certain events or life moments. For example, a Pinterest user is likely eyeing back-to-school items as school gets out in the spring, long before advertisers are using ad budgets to target for those items. That can not only make it more difficult for advertisers to figure out when to spend on Pinterest but also harder to attribute sales to its spend on Pinterest. The new tool may help buyers with attribution while giving a better idea of what Pinterest can deliver for brands.

That tool is just one of a number of improvements that buyers see as a sign of increasing potential with the platform, as Pinterest continues to work on ways to give buyers more clarity into when and how they should be spending on the platform. “Pinterest has been a bit slower to adopt marketplace parity with some of the other offerings,” said Kieley Taylor, managing partner and global head of social for GroupM. “But post-IPO, I’m optimistic and hopeful that they have a clear roadmap going forward.” 

Pinterest, which has more than 250 million monthly active users as of September 2018, was aggressively courting advertisers ahead of its IPO earlier this spring. In April, the company went public at $19 per share ultimately raising $1.43 billion with its IPO. That cash infusion, coupled with the work the company has been doing to improve its back end and build out its offering, as well as the sales team’s commitment to education and support (Pinterest declined to share the size of its sales team but it does seem to be growing its sales team as it has 34 open job listings for its sales team), has buyers optimistic about advertising on the platform as they are seeing positive results from the improvements. 

As the company works to bolster its ad business it has to figure out how to match the capabilities of its competition, which, given the discovery and lifestyle categories Pinterest plays in, can range from Google, Amazon and Instagram to even Condé  Nast and Meredith. At the same time, it has to do so while also reckoning with its unique proposition.  

A mix of search and social
“Pinterest looks and feels like a mashup between the Google and Facebook platforms,” wrote Phillip Huynh, vice president of national paid social strategy at 360i, in an email. “While this makes the platform easy to pick up for many (especially as it’s positioned as both a search and social platform), it sometimes leads to confusion as there are some options that are non-intuitive and run counter to the platforms it was inspired by.” 

Sorting out that combination of search and social is key. The new tools and capabilities Pinterest had added over the last year and a half are a way for the company to do so and show advertisers the value of advertising on Pinterest.

Yet, Pinterest’s work to solve its problem isn’t seen as a problem for some. Instead, some see it as a better place for earned rather than paid media. “They’ve created a platform where people are logging on to explicitly plan and explore future purchases,” wrote Matt Breuer, head of growth for the direct-to-consumer blanket brand Buffy, in an email. “They’re often getting viewed alongside the other social media platforms as a destination for ad dollars, but from my perspective, it’s a false equivalence. I don’t see Pinterest as a place where we need to interrupt user behavior to draw attention to our brand and products. We want to be present for users who are in [the] market for our products, whether they’re going to purchase tomorrow or nine months from now.”

Improvements on the platform
During Cannes, Pinterest announced the addition of a shopping specialty and added more e-commerce measurement capabilities. This past March, it introduced shopping ads and gave marketers the ability to upload and integrate their product catalogs, which then automatically generates new pins from that upload. Over the last year and a half, the company has also added new measurement capabilities, expanded its video offering, added dynamic retargeting and rolled out new creative formats like the Carousel and Max-Width Video. At the same time, Pinterest has lowered its CPM floors, as previously reported by Digiday, to be more in line with other social platforms, according to media buyers. Those changes have buyers more bullish on the platform.

“We’ve made a variety of changes in the media planning,” said Gunnard Johnson, head of measurement and insights for Pinterest. “We are working to give better visibility into bids, budgets and budget pacing. This has been an on-going focus area for us. We obviously want advertisers to see good results and see value Pinterest contributes.”

According to Digiday+ research from this past March, media buyers rank Pinterest’s ad targeting effectiveness above Snapchat but behind Google, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, YouTube and LinkedIn. 

“Overall advertising on Pinterest has gotten a lot easier from both a planning and execution standpoint,” wrote Jordan Jacobson, vp and head of social media for iProspect, in an email. “They continue to improve ad units and buying tools to make our lives easier.” 

But even as those improvements are made, some don’t see it as enough to sway non-endemic advertisers. “[Pinterest is not top of mind for non-endemic categories, or for the agency as a major partner,” wrote a media agency source in an email, adding that part of the problem is outreach. “They could do a better job of engaging senior agency leadership — even Reddit does it better.”

Dashboards and analytics
And overall, analytic capabilities can still be a headache for buyers who still want a better view into campaign data. “It’s definitely gotten better, but it still has a bit of a ways to go,” wrote Huynh. “Earned and organic reach, one of the key benefits of Pinterest is still somewhat difficult to link paid to.”

One main issue buyers see is that Pinterest’s dashboards cannot report out unique reach by campaign, according to Ramesh. That means that if a buyer runs multiple campaigns under the same ad account it cannot report unique reach by each campaign. In only revealing detailed campaign data when buyers go into each individual campaign objective, Pinterest makes the platform harder for buyers to use. The overview data that Pinterest offers doesn’t match KPI’s used by some buyers, like Karalyn Zamora, director of digital marketing and growth at Gravity, who wants the company to offer a more holistic view of campaign performance. 

“It’s definitely improved but it still needs some work,” wrote Zamora. 

“Pinterest needs to focus on its core,” wrote Jacobson. “They need to figure out retail, CPG, and travel first.  I personally feel like their sales team, development team [and] organization is trying to do too much from an advertising perspective. They continue to try to fight for dollars from verticals like tech, b2b, finance, etc. but until they can prove that they can be an always-on partner for core verticals that are most native to their platform it’s tough to take them seriously.”

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