Tumblr’s head of sales on attracting advertisers, storytelling and the future of social media

Over 85 million posts are published on Tumblr every day, reaching an audience of 550 million people. However, the social media network is now on a mission to get more brands interested in the platform.

Tumblr is currently the second-largest social media platform in terms of users, boasting over 550 million members, a figure that has almost doubled since 2014.

And as the number of users grows, so does interest among advertisers. Earlier this year, coffee brand Nescafé moved its entire web presence, including all global and local websites, to Tumblr in a bid to engage with younger coffee-loving audiences and drive ecommerce sales. Asda, meanwhile, launched its first-ever content marketing campaign on Tumblr in November in a bid to target mum bloggers.

Moving forward, Tumblr is keen to get even more brands on board. The man in charge of making this happen in the UK is Michael Pennington, Tumblr’s sales director for EMEA. Marketing Week caught up with him to talk about misconceptions around the brand, the importance of storytelling and the future of social media.

What are you doing to attract more brands?

In terms of commercialisation, we spend a huge amount of time evangelising the role that the social media platform can play across marketing. We talk to brands about their content marketing strategy or audience strategy, and we have a raft of products we use to put brand content natively and authentically into our users’ experiences.

This means taking brand content and putting that in Tumblr sponsored posts, sponsored days or sponsored videos. Our video product has produced incredible results so far for brands that want to distribute at scale. Typically what we’re seeing is that brands that run videos with us see as much as three times the return for earned media. That’s a very powerful ROI.

Those three products are utilised by our in-house creative team who sit down with brands that are keen to create new content or look back at their archives to repurpose existing content. So that’s what we do. We believe that every brand has a story to tell, and we want to unlock that story as a partner and advisor.

As a platform, how do you stand out from other social networks?

It’s a very clear answer. Tumblr exists so that users around the world can create amazing digital content, regardless of format. What I mean by that is photos, GIFs, memes, videos or sound clips.

“The limits of Tumblr are the limits of the creative world, by which I mean that there are none”

Michael Pennington, EMEA sales director, Tumblr

The creative class has changed as it’s no longer hierarchical. Everyone is now a creator. While other platforms exist for hyper connectivity, instantaneous news or customer service, Tumblr exists for communities to come together and create or share great content.

I am often asked who I see as our competitors, but I genuinely think we have a unique offering. Every digital media company exists for a different purpose, but there aren’t very many partners who can help brand storytelling in the way we can.

What does success look like for a Tumblr campaign and what metrics are used to demonstrate this?

Content lives on the platform forever. We are seeing brand posts that are being distributed and shared more than 120 days after they were first posted. In terms of measuring impact, we look at earned media, engagement and traction. That is how we gauge success and it works really well for our clients.

It’s also important to mention the positive nature of the platform, because Tumblr is all about passion points and joy. We see huge uplifts in brand positivity and brand receptivity because brands are in a place that people love.

We’re seeing really strong uplifts in our campaigns compared to other digital campaigns. For example, beauty brand Clinique recently launched its #FaceForward campaign on Tumblr, and it delivered 36 million impressions, 600,000 engagements and 59% of the audience said they were likely to make a purchase after seeing the campaign. But besides brand affinity and brand positivity, we also look at creating an uplift in sales for brands.

Beauty brand Clinique launched its #FaceForward campaign on Tumblr in a bid to appeal to millennials.
Beauty brand Clinique launched its #FaceForward campaign on Tumblr in a bid to appeal to millennials.

Tumblr is often seen as being a platform for millennials. How would you define your users?

When you have 550 million users, you come across every type of audience. Besides millennials, we also target businessmen, older users and mums, who we like to call ‘Mumblrs’. There are so many sub communities and subsections that use Tumblr. Even ‘millennials’ is such an umbrella term, as it includes a wide range of different ages.

How is Tumblr staying relevant?

It’s about evolving the user experience. We are consistently making sure that our product and platform is enabling people to engage in the manner they want to. We launched Tumblr Messaging recently, which allows people to reach out to others. We have also launched the GIF maker, GIF search and Tumblr TV, which is a non-stop player of the best GIFs. Tumblr Messenger initially launched to around 1,500 people, and there was a real sense of intimacy and it created brand advocates. So we tested it with a few people initially, then we rolled it out wide. That in itself shows how we’ve been bringing advocates on board at an early stage.

How is the brand planning on raising its profile among brands going forward?

The platform is only going to keep snowballing, because people want to tell their stories. They want to tell them in a unique manner, and that’s only a phenomenon that’s going to get bigger. Native is key for brands. We have that huge user base, now it’s about connecting brands in the right way to the audience.

Where do you think the future of social media is going?

It’s all about video, without a doubt. Communication is becoming increasingly video based, and what’s interesting is that brands haven’t completely tapped into the malleability of video as a form of expression.

I also think the micro-targeting of users by remixing your existing assets is an interesting phenomenon. So what I mean with that is that if you’re a brand and you’ve got a product to push, it’s about cutting up your assets into ‘snackable’ videos and push it out to different audiences.

Ultimately, the trend for people using social media to watch videos is only going to grow, and smart brands will learn how to evolve their video experience. It will be interesting to see how brands adapt to this.

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