Pinterest courts UK brands with promise of sales boost

Pinterest is expanding its ad business outside the US for the first time and is hoping to differentiate by focusing on how it can marry online and offline to drive up sales for brands.

Pinterest is preparing to launch its ad business in the UK in the coming weeks. And with that in mind it has been holding workshops twice a day for creative agencies, media agencies and brands in London to explain to them what is different about its ad product and to share tips on what works and the pitfalls to avoid.

As with many digital companies, Pinterest has taken a slow approach to introducing advertising to the site. It only launched its ‘Promoted Pins’ programme in the US two years ago and it took it until early this year to open that up to all businesses with a self-serve platform.

When advertising launches in the UK it will be available to every brand. However Pinterest will still review all the ads to ensure they do not breach its policies and are up to the same standard as other content on the site.

Pinterest’s ‘sweet spot’

Adele Cooper, Pinterest’s UK country manager, believes Pinterest plays best “in the consideration phase of the marketing funnel”. She highlights use cases including people planning a dinner party and looking for recipes or looking for inspiration for an outfit to wear to a party.

“People are actively looking to plan something or for inspiration, that is the sweet spot for us.”

Adele Cooper, UK country manager, Pinterest

“If the ultimate goal is to drive a sale you can literally track if they put an item in their basket, if they complete a purchase. The middle and the end of the funnel is where we play most strongly,” she explains, highlighting that Pinterest offers brands a “conversion pixel” so they can track if people click on a pin and what they then go on to do.

Cooper previously held roles at both Google and Facebook and she says the hope is that Pinterest can attract ad dollars for visual content in a similar way to how Google brought advertisers on board with AdWords.

READ MORE: Social commerce – How willing are consumers to buy through social media?

“Pinterest reminds me a lot of AdWords in the early days where people were typing in a search query and then a brand or business would come up. That is very useful for brands and a very natural way for a brand to appear. Pinterest is very much the same in a visual context.

“Consumers tend to use Facebook to show what they have done in the past, Twitter is very much what they are doing right now and Pinterest is future planning,” she says.

Bringing the brand to life

Attempting to replicate the success of AdWords is a big ask. Documents leaked to TechCrunch suggest Pinterest, which is six years old, was targeting $169m in revenue last year after generating just $25m in 2014. This some distance away from the billions of dollars in revenues that Google generates from search advertising.

It also faces increasing competition. According to the Financial Times, Snapchat, which is two years younger than Pinterest, is on track to make $100m in revenues this year, which suggests a much faster rate of growth.

Part of any site’s ability to generate revenue lies in its audience. The latest comScore figures show Pinterest has 10 million monthly unique users in the UK, behind the likes of Instagram and Twitter. If it wants to reach the dizzy heights of the Googles and Facebooks of the digital world it will have to reach a new audience.

Cooper believes where Pinterest’s point of different lies is in the forward-looking activity users engage in on the site.

Cooper admits marketing the brand has not been a priority up until now, with its strategy focused on providing the best possible user experience and promoting its site by co-marketing with sellers. For example it ran a campaign with TopShop around London Fashion Week last year and has taken on joint editorial initiatives with Made.com.

Marrying online and offline

That could soon change. Cooper says it is “time for Pinterest to start thinking about doing [above the line] advertising” with TV and out-of-home of particular interest. If it goes on TV it would follow fellow digital brands including Facebook, Google and Netflix, all of which have used more traditional ad formats to reach a wider audience.

“If we are describing [Pinterest] to a general audience we call it a catalogue of ideas and a place to go to discover, save and do things that you love. But people who don’t use it might not know that much about Pinterest and we could do a better job,” she said.

“We would definitely look [at TV] There are people who have heard of Pinterest or are vaguely aware of it but don’t know how they would use it. Marketing to drive brand awareness and help people understand how the product could be useful in their life. But we would explain it in the context of a couple of categories – fashion and food – that would appeal to a broad range of people, rather than in the abstract which could be confusing.”

As for where Pinterest goes next, a big focus for Cooper is on ensuring the platform is locally relevant for a UK audience and not swamped by US content, while building relationships with brands.

made.com pinterest

Innovation is also top of the agenda. Pinterest has been criticised in some quarters for not moving fast enough on its ad business despite launching a slew of new products in the US. But Cooper recognises that it must stay one step ahead of the competition in the battle for ad dollars.

And she thinks Pinterest’s key focus should be in marrying the online and offline worlds.

“Our ads have very similar engagement rates to organic content and are met with similar enthusiasm by our users. That gives us the opportunity to think of really creative ways to use branded content on the platform and offline,” she adds.

“Retailers are really interested to figure out how to link their online and offline experiences for consumers and get consumers that are only using that retailer online into the store and then keep the customer when they leave the store by using online. There is so much we can do in that space that would be really interesting.”

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