Pinterest doesn’t want to be in the ‘social media bucket’ – but can it bill itself as an alternative for advertisers?

Pinterest doesn’t want to be in the ‘social media bucket’ – but can it bill itself as an alternative for advertisers?

It’s been little over a year since Pinterest unveiled its first ads in the UK, and the platform recently announced it is planting similar roots in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand – but as it looks to siphon budgets reserved for the big boys of digital how is it persuading UK marketers of its own value?

What do a family Easter lunch and a steampunk wedding have in common with a Harry Potter-themed nursery? Well, if you really wanted to, you could plan for all three on Pinterest.

Over the past few years the platform has sought to position itself as one of the ‘largest human curated interest graphs in the world,' unveiling creative tools and ad units for marketers to experiment with. It revealed its first ad format – Promoted Pins – in the US in 2015, landing in the UK 12 months later and another year on it has extended the offering to brands in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

According to eMarketer forecasts, Pinterest is set to grow 9.2% this year to reach 69 million US users. The company has 175 million global monthly users in total, yet despite an upward trajectory, during conversations with brand marketers it can often feel eclipsed by talk of Google, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.

Since going on the charm offensive in the UK, however, Pinterest claims to have enjoyed both loyalty and repeat business from advertisers. Adele Cooper, the firm’s UK & Ireland country manage says that 12 months on all Promoted Pins launch partners – including Tesco, Hunter and John Lewis – are still regularly advertising on the platform.

Pinning it down

Despite Cooper’s confidence in Pinterest's steady progression, some marketers, and consumers, have remained confused about its purpose and scale.

It’s been called a search engine, a social network and more – one senior UK agency exec The Drum spoke to said they wouldn't recommend it unless a client "specifically pushed for it or there was a super strong fit," but that the US side of the business used it "a fair amount".

When asked how she is pitching the sell to brands and agencies in the UK, Cooper says the simplest way to describe it is as a tool to plan and design your life: “It’s interesting when you’re talking to a person one-to-one it’s easy to explain Pinterest because you can relate it to that particular passion or project they are working on - but when you’re trying to explain it to everybody it is a tougher one,” she admits.

100bn Pins, or ideas, live within Pinterest’s walls and during Advertising Week Europe last month the company’s creative strategist Nancy Jeng stressed that Pinterest wants to encourage users to “you be yourself, not your selfie”.

“The reason we say this,” she continues, “is that a lot of people put us in the social media bucket – and that makes sense because sharing is a part of Pinterest – but the truth is that Pinterest is more personal than it is social.”

Jeng told a room of marketers that users aren't broadcasting snippets of their lives on Pinterest in the same way they do on Instagram to “show off”, instead, she says they are harnessing the tool to refine their own tastes and preferences.

Cooper reveals general education for agencies is happening via training or inspiration sessions at their offices. However, outwith the platform’s reluctance to be known as a social network another problem it appears to be facing is that Instagram and Google are closing in on its USP with features designed to let users save pictures to a private scrapbook and shoppable photos.

“Competitors are innovating at such a quick rate, it certainly puts pressure on networks like Pinterest to follow suit," says Jaywing's head of social Sally Rushton.

Although, she does concede that developments on other networks like Instagram Stories and the recently announced Facebook Stories equivalent are all very similar and as such Pinterest still has “a strong and distinctive USP”.

"Its challenge will be to make that remain meaningful in an increasingly competitive landscape where people’s time is precious and they look to be seduced by new thinking that fits their lives and how they wish to use and engage with social media."

Helpful, actionable, beautiful

Cooper says brands are using Pinterest to meet performance goals and to drive awareness, and for advertisers like Tesco the value of Pinterest falls into the latter camp. Ethanie Turner, the grocer’s social media and digital content manager says it measure the success of paid-for content like Promoted Video Pins by way of engagement and clicks.

Without going into specifics she says the brand was “very pleased” with its most recent Christmas campaign which comprised video tutorials on how to make DIY cinnamon candles and roulade.

“The level of engagement that we get, and the insight from this, has helped us to build our strategy on and off Pinterest,” she adds, explaining that the platform requires a level of early preparation to capitalise on people planning for seasonal events like Easter.

For Pinterest, this skill to capture consumers at an early stage in their journey is the sweet spot – and an attribute that could help it stand out in the digital space.

Amidst Google’s recent brand safety issues and Facebook’s transparency woes, both of the internet’s biggest players have also been bemoaned for taking an approach to retargeting that means users are served ads for items they’ve already purchased – a problem Pinterest has the ability to sidestep by reaching out to customers in clear moments of intent and by encouraging advertisers to making pins to ensure they adhere to the three principles of being “helpful, actionable and beautiful”.

Pinterest also says that interior retailer Made.com has noted an uptick in sales against products featured in pins: “When they run an ad on Google or Facebook, they will see their sales go up but it will often be a very different item,” Cooper adds, “when they run an ad on Pinterest they will sell the specific items in the Pin.”

While pinpointed sales results may be alluring for some UK advertisers the public is somewhat pessimistic about Pinterest’s longevity, with a recent study from Mailjet study finding that only 11% of users believed they would still use Pinterest in a decade, against Facebook’s 26%.

While it might not have the same scale as Facebook, or even Twtitter, the ambitious company looks like it is going to keep up the fight for a slice of marketers’ ad bugets. Recent reports suggested that it was looking to clock up $500m in ad revenue this year – a 67% increase from the $300m it reported for 2016, and that it was going to follow Snap Inc in charting a path towards an IPO. According to Pinterest, though, there are no plans to go public in the immediate future and for now it simply wants to grow its business.

Beyond launching Promoted Pins in new markets it has tentacles in the adtech space, a visual search tool and an influencer network. It’s also recently rolled out app-install capabilities, so while the digital duopoly might have its pin firmly in the corkboard the visual bookmarking tool is marking out its own place.

Rebecca Stewart

Rebecca Stewart is a reporter at The Drum. Based in London, she writes news, analysis and features around brand marketing and digital innovation. She has interviewed key figures from the likes of Airbnb, Amnesty International, Unilever, Facebook and Spotify, as well as covering international events like Ad Week Europe, Dmexco and Ciclope.

All by Rebecca