Modern Marketing

Tumblr is a 'land of opportunity' that allows brands to be creative, says its global head of brand partnerships, Lee Brown

By Stephen Lepitak | -

March 31, 2014 | 7 min read

"We think of ourselves as a land of opportunity for creators to come, show up, and create amazing stuff to earn this audience," explains Lee Brown, global head of brand partnerships for Tumblr.

A Yahoo event is about to begin, but Brown has taken a few minutes to speak to The Drum while attending this year's SXSW, which the platform has been attending for the last seven years as it has grown and developed ahead of its acquisition by Yahoo last year. We meet at its parent company's rented bar rooftop venue in the centre of Austin during the festival, with the sound of drills from the neighbouring building making conversation difficult.

We begin by discussing his views on branded content, the main advertising offer for Tumblr that challenges advertisers with being creative in order to truly connect with the Tumblr audience.

"Brands have been telling their stories and creating content forever. They are among the world's best creators, they have the best stories, they inspire people to be customers, they talk about their product, and their heritage," he states while discussing the power that advertisers have when it comes to delivering messages through Tumblr.

As to how Tumblr helps to convey those 'stories' to users, Brown cites founder, David Karp who "often speaks about how that has manifested itself online."

He continues: "The areas that we have been interested in solving with brands is the ability for them to create intent and the ability for them to make that brand connection and to have that inspiration and that creation of intent.

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"For the last decade or so, the Internet has aligned comment metrics and measurements around harvesting intent - the last click, the optimisation, the blue link, the hyper targeted AB testing - and have gotten away from that brand storytelling and the creation of intent. We think billion dollar brands need that ability to create intent and as more and more time is spent online and on Tumblr, they have to have that opportunity to tell their story in their voice and tonality in their space to bring customers to their products and into their stories."

A recent report by the Wall Street Journal claimed that some advertisers were disgruntled with lengthy challenge of creating branded content for the site. In response, Brown says that the platform is proud of the success brands have had across multiple categories through Tumblr.

"There's something for everyone on Tumblr, with over 178 million blogs generating 80 million plus posts a day. While we've seen early adoption from categories such as fashion and entertainment, we are starting to see a lot of traction and momentum in other categories that are starting to come onto the platform as well as from automotive to retail to Quality System Regulation (QSR). They are coming on and telling their stories in their voice and having success and finding an audience that wants to engage with their stories," he claims.

One brand that has adopted the use of Tumblr to post it's elements of its World Cup build-up campaign is Coca-Cola, which aims to tell the stories of fans from around the world, and also place 1 million pictures of football fans onto a flag on the pitch ahead of the opening game.

"We are so excited for what Coke is doing with the World Cup on Tumblr and how they are pushing the limits of creativity and creation through our platform that offers them enormous opportunity for expression and customisation and Coke is really leveraging the fullest of our capabilities and embracing the platform for what it is meant to be used for.

"While there are a lot of brands that are leveraging the full customisation of it. About a third of brands just purchase things from our theme garden but they do like customisation as well. So while Coke is going full tilt on full customisation, a lot of brands are coming in and buying themes and have started to tell their story easily as well."

He continues to explain that brands creating content directly for the platform are the ones finding success, and they are doing so through hiring content agencies and developing their own integral teams in order to ensure a consistent tonality.

"The brands that do the best on our platform are the ones that show up as creators and as advertisers. The ones that want to show up and engage with the community versus broadcast to them - the ones that want to show up and earn that versus buy that - those are the ones that are having the most success, that are having the most engagement. Those are the ones that are creating a story."

As to the difference he has seen within Tumblr since the Yahoo acquisition, he is unsurprisingly positive.

"Some of the things that we have done right off the bat has enabled us to accelerate our technology on our roadmap and to get to places much faster than we would have originally. At CES this year we launched leveraging Yahoo's ad technology to enhance us to target, so to have gender based targeting as well as geo-location based targeting, as well as offering advertisers a marketplace on engagement. We have a cost per engagement offering as well now, giving marketers another way to buy. Those were always on our roadmap, but Yahoo just enabled us to get there faster and accelerated that technology for us."

Whether or not the launch of its own advertising network could be on the cards, Brown isn't saying, but he refuses to rule it out either. And as to what of Tumblr's offering will be developed, he explains that it is focusing on building its analytics and research offer, while segmenting partners in order to offer more data to marketers. Those partnerships will also be extended, with more set to be added, he reveals.

Brown also describes the UK and Europe, where the platform currently has no permanently based members of staff, as "a very strong community". "There is a lot of demand within that community and we are working closely with our Yahoo counterparts within those regions to filter through some of the demand and be able to respond to it," he continues, adding that they are "looking at it" when asked whether they plan to hire in the UK.

With the recent hiring of a director of media in the US, Tumblr is aiming to grow its connections within Hollywood and grow its usership within the most glamorous creative arena in the world. He says that there is "plenty to come" around that, a statement that The Drum feels is probably true of the near future for Tumblr as a whole.

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