Pinterest says lockdown is fuelling an appetite for discovery as it eyes media budgets

367 million people now use Pinterest each month

As people seek inspiration for projects to undertake during lockdown, Pinterest's global chief marketing officer says it's experiencing record levels of engagement. But can the platform maintain momentum, and secure a coveted spot on brands' media plans post-quarantine?

If you’ve ever planned a wedding, baked a cake or undertaken an ambitious DIY project, Pinterest is likely one of the first places you’ve looked to for inspiration.

Some 367 million people now use the visual search engine, that sees digital scrapbooks live as ‘boards’, and act as a source of discovery for the at-home curator. Over the past few years, the platform has been building the case for advertiser investment, leading it to report revenues of over $1bn for the first time at the end of 2019.

However, where Covid-19 has punctured the plans of many media owners and brands, Pinterest’s nascent ad offering looks set to emerge stronger from the crisis – if that is, it can convince advertisers to put their money where their mouth is.

Though huge events like weddings are on hold, along with exotic holidays, family parties, and large renovation projects, Pinterest has seen an “explosion” in its use cases of late, according to its global chief marketing officer Andréa Mallard.

Since mid-March, Pinterest has seen record levels of engagement globally (in impressions, searches, saves, and board creation), driven by its utility.

Global engagement on Pinterest has hit a record peak, with searches up more than 60% year-on-year and saves up around 40% year-on-year. In the UK, searches have increased 55% year-on-year and the number of boards created increased by 52% in the same period. Around the world, board creation is at an all-time high, up 60% compared to the same time last year.

Mallard explains how confinement has caused people to seek out everything from practical solutions on how to educate and entertain their kids, to

tips on how to clean during quarantine; on what food to put in the pantry, to how to make face masks.

Recently, Pinterest has also been seeing people in some markets return to “more future-oriented interests” such as vacation and event planning.

“More and more people are desperate for great ideas on – first of all – how to cope with what’s happening right now, but also how to plan for tomorrow,” the marketer explains.

A glimpse of tomorrow

Pinterest has a wealth of data into emerging trends and behaviours, which give some insight into audience mentalities at this time.

Mallard says the advent of Covid-19 prompted “hundreds” of calls to Pinterest from concerned advertisers asking for data to guide their marketing strategies.

As a result, Pinterest identified four phases for brands to consider if they’re planning – or re-planning – their marketing investment right now based on customers’ needs.

At the start of the pandemic, many markets were in the “triage and information stage” and the consumer mindset was primarily one of uncertainty. Now, many global brands are entering the “escapism and optimism” phase, with restless consumers looking to advertisers to help them plan for the future and escape the present.

“We’ve had the earliest glimpse of what tomorrow looks like because of what our users are looking for,” says Mallard.

“People are really hungry, almost on a deep psychological level, to be able to plan and take back tomorrow. We’re seeing an unbelievable resurgence in planning for summer parties and Christmas – because these events are going to have more meaning than ever.”

It’s these insights, combined with a growing throng of ad products, that Mallard is hoping will prove Pinterest’s value to brands at a time when traditional and digital media budgets are contracting.

Brands, she says, are already leaning into this, working with Pinterest's in-house team or agency outreach team to build and scale campaigns quickly.

In the UK, where Pinterest counts 15 million users, Birdseye recently ran a drive where it produced a series of boards based on meals children could help their parents make after a long day of homeschooling. Argos, meanwhile, worked with Pinterest on a series of videos to help kids stay occupied – which included ideas like digging up dinosaur fossils to building their own towns.

Mallard continues: “There’s been a lot of really clever ways we saw brands in the UK lean in. Now there’s an opportunity to help them plan for the future.”

Maintaining momentum

Pinterest might still have been working with advertisers on solutions catered to a locked-down audience, but although it is less exposed to ad spend cutbacks from the travel and auto sectors than its rivals, it’s still predicting a rocky outlook for its own business in 2020.

On Pinterest’s most recent earnings call, chief executive Ben Silbermann detailed how many advertisers have paused or halted their ad spend. For those who are still investing, however, he noted a “shift away from awareness campaigns and toward performance ads”; an area he said Pinterest had invested heavily in over the past year.

Like most digital and social platforms, Pinterest has benefitted from a user bump on the back of Covid-19, something that – combined with an increase in engagement – could stand its ad business in good stead after the pandemic.

The business maintained global growth momentum in Q1, posting a 9.55% quarter-on-quarter growth rate, outpacing the same at Snapchat (5%), Twitter (9.21%), LinkedIn (2.22%) and Facebook (4.20%).

Though Facebook remains larger, Pinterest now has comparatively more users than Twitter and Snapchat, and continues to grow at a solid clip. The question is now about whether the company can maintain the momentum and keep users coming back for a variety of uses post-pandemic.

Mallard concedes that some categories (including travel and luxury) have understandably slowed down their spend on Pinterest, but says others (e-commerce, food and FMCG) have “really thrived” and simply tweaked existing assets to better suit the situation.

Pinterest’s range of ad formats include promoted video, shopping ads, carousels and single image slots. For Mallard, its buyable formats are something brands are doubling down on right now.

“Obviously [e-commerce brands] don’t have a tonne of bricks-and-mortar advertising, but we’ve had some chief marketers tell us that every day just now is like Black Friday for them. Because the demand is so extreme they’ve been using our shopping features.”

“So while some brands have [pushed spend] down others are going bigger than ever,” she adds. “They don’t want to waste the opportunity, and they know that they have to emerge into what will be an injured economy having stayed active, or they’ll be in an even worse position.”

The former top marketer at Athleta, Mallard was appointed as Pinterest’s first chief marketing officer in 2018. When it comes to Pinterest’s own media spend, she says it hasn’t dramatically changed anything – it’s just shifted some budgets over to digital.

Like her platform’s users, though, she’s also looking to the future.

“As soon as the world opens back up I’m looking forward to being back in the UK with not only digital but traditional OOH ads, when it’s safe and appropriate to do so.”

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