Pinterest began opening up its ad business to markets outside the U.S. this week, starting with paid-for Promoted Pins in the U.K.
The move marks the latest iteration in its move to woo advertisers, a gambit that some have complained comes too little, too late. The aspirational photo-sharing platform was founded six years ago last month, and its ad evolution has been slow — some brands and agencies have taken note that more aggressive rivals such as Snapchat and Instagram threaten to eat Pinterest’s beautifully photographed lunch.
But that’s in the U.S. It turns out U.K. agencies welcome the platform’s slow and steady approach. Felicity Long, head of digital at Carat, said it’s OK to take your time before unrolling an ad model. “You need to have enough of a critical mass on a platform for advertisers to invest,” she points out, Pinterest has 11.3 million monthly U.K. users, according to comScore, and 100 million globally. (Instagram, a younger image-oriented platform, recently surpassed 400 million users.)
“It’s encouraging that it has taken this long,” agrees James Duffy, head of digital at media agency Total Media. “So many sites have rushed to monetize the audience that they have. Advertising is only as successful as its ability to maintain the scale and quality of the audience.”
The danger in opening up a self-serve ad platform is allowing too many lower-quality ads from irrelevant brands, marketers say. But to advertisers, Pinterest is referring to itself as a tool, rather than a social network, suggesting that users are less inclined to follow friends than they are companies or inspirational people, theoretically making them more open to hearing what a brand has to say.
Last month, the platform gathered interested parties to distill lessons learned from the U.S., which has been running Promoted Pins since December. Other innovative formats, like Cinematic Pins, are live Stateside as well, and video is in the pipeline.
Brands on board for the U.K. launch include John Lewis, Tesco and online retailer Made.com. The main takeaway from the U.S., according to Made.com, which has been working with Pinterest organically since 2012, was the idea of helpfulness and offering value to users, which the brand then briefed into its creative team to work on.
The result is three iterations of Made.com Promoted Pins, with one being slightly more helpful than the others by pulling out the items within a particular style, so the brand can track and learn which does the best and scale from there, according to Hannah Pilpel, social media manager at Made.com.
“We’re able to speak to customers at that point of consideration, which we are unable to do on other channels in the same way,” said Pilpel. In this way, Pinterest isn’t unlike search. As such, Pinterest is selling the ads on a cost-per-click basis, taking a cue from how Google prices paid search ads, starting at £2 ($2.81), according to Total Media’s James Duffy. “Brands can ensure they are targeting people in the mid-upper-funnel phase and only have to pay if they click through to their site; then they can test and scale that,” said Duffy.
It’s one thing being able to target a user at the point of consideration, but the ability to anticipate the moments before that intent is a powerful and attractive targeting prospect. “If I’m selling chocolate, how do I use Pinterest to understand that someone wants to eat chocolate before they know they want to?” notes Carat’s Felicity Long.
Targeting is still based around more simple criteria such as keywords, gender and device, but in the U.S. Pinterest is already pitching the power of more contextual targeting. “We are obsessed with buying audiences demographically.” said Long. “What’s interesting is how Pinterest will use data to talk to people in the same cultural groups that care about the same things, like geeks or DIY fanatics, but demographically look different.”
“I’m hoping it spent the last six years understanding its customers,” she added.