Tumblr is wooing ad agencies with tacos and GIFs, but is it enough?

Tumblr has been taking over ad agencies.

The Yahoo-owned blogging platform is on a charm offensive this fall: showing up at agency offices, setting up taco stands, GIF booths, and basically reintroducing itself to the ad world. Ad creatives and buyers like Deutsch Inc., 360i and Razorfish have been targeted with this #TumblrTakeover in recent weeks.

When Tumblr’s agency liaisons showed up it made an “impactful splash,” said Matthew Wurst, vp of social media at 360i. “It was an impressive show of force.”

Tumblr came armed with custom presentations for each team at the agency, creatives and media planners. A third of the office at 360i was able to get a fresh look at what Tumblr is offering brands.

“It is definitely trying to get back into that consideration set,” Wurst said. “They’re reaching out to creatives and media folks to think about Tumblr again as part of the plan.”

This year, Tumblr did an about-face on its ad sales strategy, when Yahoo took over the whole team. Key Tumblr personnel, like head of sales Lee Brown, left, and the rest of the salesforce was assumed by Yahoo.

The hands-off strategy that CEO Marissa Mayer proposed to Tumblr founder David Karp at the time of the sale in 2013 no longer applies.

At the same time, Yahoo itself is in a rut with uncertain growth prospects, putting its billion-dollar bet under even more pressure to perform. Tumblr has made its mark on mobile where 81 percent of its users spend their time. It counts 550 million monthly visitors and is expected to hit $100 million in ad revenue this year, according to Yahoo.

That’s a start, but still well behind Instagram’s $600 million, according to eMarketer. Twitter will do more than $2 billion in ad sales this year. Pinterest and Snapchat are both at least $100 million-a-year ad businesses.

“Put Tumblr against what Pinterest has achieved in the last six months; they’re being destroyed,” said one agency executive, who has worked closely with the platform on campaigns. “When you’re trying go after the Snapchat audience — younger millennials in their early 20s — now Kik comes up more than Tumblr. Yik Yak, those guys, come up in conversations before even Tumblr.”

Kik is a mainly millennial messaging app, and Yik Yak is an anonymous sounding board for college students.

“Tumblr doesn’t have that cool factor right now,” said David Berkowitz, CMO at agency MRY. He said sites like Imgur and apps like Snapchat are dominating the conversation among 20-year-olds. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are out there every day with a new product innovation with ad implications, and Tumblr just doesn’t come up.

“Tumblr is one of those things I still need to force myself to remember to include when asking about all the other platforms,” Berkowitz said.

If Tumblr excels in any one category, it is as a publishing platform, according to digital marketing experts. It is still a priority for a lot of brands, 360i’s Wurst said.

“We have brands that have actually reorganized their entire digital ecosystem to put Tumblr at the center,” Wurst said. “They get rid of their websites, and a Tumblr page becomes the brand’s homepage.”

For instance, in September, Nescafé moved its main website to Tumblr. A number of brands have a strong presence there, as well, from JetBlue to Universal Pictures to Walgreens.

Tumblr schools brands on the platform’s frenetic style, and it helps recruit power users who assist in promoting campaigns. This year, Tumblr launched the Creatrs network, an in-house agency that supports advertisers.

Lisa Utzschneider, Yahoo’s chief revenue officer, said Tumblr’s recent takeovers at agencies were done in that spirit of strengthening ties to Madison Avenue, which is a priority this year.

“I’m a big believer in the importance of listening to and collaborating with our agency partners to understand their needs, and that’s exactly what we’ve been focused on,” Utzschneider said in a statement by e-mail. “This is absolutely the case with Tumblr where we see big opportunities for even more collaboration and creativity, so we’ve really spent time connecting directly with many of our top agency partners about their goals this year.”

Tumblr has also released some new features recently, including a new messaging service within the platform and a GIF-making tool. For some, these are necessary changes, but they don’t alter the fundamental calculus for brands deciding where to put their budgets.

“You see them launching some of these recent upgrades, if you will, with the messaging and other changes, but it’s like, ‘come on guys make the ad product where it needs to be before trying to be all things to all people,’” said the agency executive source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Tumblr’s agency outreach appears to be having an impact, however. Wurst said that Yahoo and Tumblr are on-scene at the office making sure they stay top-of-mind, and he thinks Tumblr’s detractors are missing something.

“That is an old way of thinking,” Wurst said. “There is definitely more opportunity on Tumblr than existed previously, and more than many marketers are aware of.”


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