Technology Pinterest

From new formats to pinpoint targeting – inside Pinterest’s plans to crack advertising in the UK


By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

July 12, 2016 | 8 min read

Pinterest is upping its game in the UK as it positions itself amongst advertising as not simply a channel for branding, but one that can - and should - be considered for direct response activity.



Pinterest is on a mission to get brands and agencies in the UK using its platform, with a raft of new features and measuring tools in the pipeline in a bid to attract a larger chunk of ad budgets its way.

But up against the colossal forces of Twitter and Facebook as well as Snapchat’s quiet arrival on the British ad scene last year, the market is crowded and Pinterest’s ‘slow and steady’ approach to getting brands on board had been looking increasingly risky.

And yet it seems to have found its point of differentiation and is now positioning itself as a search engine which can track the entire customer journey, from inspiration right through to the point of purchase. With over two billion searches happening on the platform each month.

Despite being only three months into its advertising strategy in the UK after launching Promoted Pins in May, the likes of Topshop, and Centre Parks have been quick to sign up and today it has over 1000 brands on its books.

Taking it slow, claimed Pinterest, and resisting the urge to bombard users with brands amidst the era of ad blocking is one factor which is helping the ads that do run get seen. Its data shows that the hide rate on the platform is 90 per cent lower than on others, while the fact that these Pins ‘live forever’, long after a brand is putting money behind them, has resulted in a 'earned media' rising by around 20 per cent compared to other platforms.

But it wants more and the challenge of late has been trying to convince those same advertisers that it's more than just branding channel.

“There is a gap which we’re working to fill. Pinterest of now probably can’t compete with direct response budgets. But within the next 12 months we’ll have new targeting formats that will bring Pinterest and those other channels closer together," explained Matt Whitehead, partner manager at Pinterest at an event in London last month.

"Facebook's algorithms are geared towards likes and shares and marketers got hoodwinked into spending a lot of money and the [vanity metrics] didn’t convert into anything down the line. We’re trying to show that engagement on Pinterest actually means something. It signals intent to buy or act. So the value of a pin on Pinterest shouldn’t be overlooked in terms of the buy model."

Ramping up the offering

To know where Pinterest in the UK is heading with this strategy, look across the pond to the US where varied formats, robust measurement and an e-commerce button have been part of the package for the past year.

Coming over from the US soon - although no firm date is set - will be Cinematic Pins (video ads) and Promoted Boards (same idea as a Promoted Pin but the brand can include multiple images under the same theme) which both allow the it to expand its storytelling capabilities.

However, it’s the new targeting options on offer that’s helping Pinterest take a big step towards commanding a greater portion of direct response budgets.

In the last few weeks in the UK, advertisers have able to match their customer lists into Pinterest’s database with the platform to come up with a combined audience. The advertiser can then either target this audience with specific messaging or exclude that group because they want new customers.

They can also do look-a-like targeting – i.e. get a similar profile to those in their customer base to target – and retarget customers who have already engaged with their content.

Finally, keyword based buying has also been expanded, which advertisers can use separately from audience based buys, opening it up to a host of potential new advertisers.

To make headway on its desire to be seen as a DR platform, being able to track all of this and attribute it to sales has become a priority.

In the US, research firms Millward Brown and Oracle have been brought in as partners to prove how well Pinterest ads drive offline sales. While it’s still early days, a study measuring 26 different brand campaigns a pointed to the fact that the platform can drive five times more incremental sales than the industry benchmark. It’s stats like this which Pinterest in the UK is having to use to pique the interest of British brands (where a 'conversion pixel' is the only measurement tool available to track how ads impact online browsing).

Nonetheless, “partners in the UK are used to going on faith from results in the US and they’ve been willing to test Pinterest and those that have are very happy,” explained Pinterest’s UK country manager Adele Cooper.

One such brand is It knew that whenever it ran an online ad campaign, on any platform, it would typically drive sales across the brand as a whole. But with Pinterest whatever was featured within the Promoted Pin would immediately see a spike in sales.

“Everything that they’ve advertised has sold, including high ticket items,” claimed Cooper. “The other interesting thing is that 87 per cent of traffic is new customers and they also get a higher average order value. It’s the first [UK] advertiser that's given us results, but we're hearing good things.”

Perhaps more importantly to proving Pinterest'seffacy is giving brands the option of selling directly within the ecosystem. This has been in play for US advertisers for a year and early result are positive. To date, there are 20,00 merchants that have integrated the function into their Pinterest ads, including Bloomingdales and Macys.

One of the main things that these merchants are seeing is that 80-100 per cent of the customers buying through Buyable Pins are new. No date has been set for a UK launch but it's firmly on the cards.

Perception Problems

The challenge Pinterest currently faces lies solely in addressing some of the perceptions of the platform which have been allowed to manifest within agency walls.

“Their visibility in the UK is tiny and although the usage stats rival Snapchat, the reality is that in terms of their B2B presence it’s totally insignificant,” argued Tom Ollerton, head of innovation at We Are Social. “You can’t move without seeing Facebook […] but I can’t remember the last time a client said ‘we need to nail Pinterest’.”

At the root of this perception issue is the fact that many brands and agencies believe it’s mainly used by women. Whilst it’s true that there’s a 70/30 gender split in users, currently the male audience is growing faster than female. This fact needs to be shouted at from the rooftops by Pinterest if it’s to break through.

“If you’ve got a budget for branding on social why would you not put it all on Facebook when you know you’ve got the reach and targeting. What Pinterest need to do is convince advertisers that they have the reach across the demographics that need to be hit and that they can target them specifically. And I don’t think they’ve done a great job of that.”

Cooper argued its relationships with agencies in the UK are strong, although it remains a small outfit with only 10 people currently in the London office.

One potential avenue for growth is ecommerce; inevitably brands will look to penetrate right thought the purchase funnel when it comes to their social spend. And despite the efforts of Instagram, Facebook and to some extent Snapchat to prove they can do that, it is Pinterest that has the unique ability be both a source of inspiration and a place to buy that could – in time – give it the edge.

As Ollerton sums it up: “It completely changes the game if they can prove direct ROI beyond brand activity.”

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