Magazines are still a potent force for advertising and communicating information, and with the arrival of Pinterest, magazines are finding a new venue for engaging readers and reasserting their relevance in the marketplace.
The challenge for many magazines, and brands in general, has been figuring out how to monetize online content, especially since most online advertising forms, such as text link ads, don’t fit the magazine advertising model that has traditionally been image-based and has relied on being completely immersive for readers.
Figuring out the online advertising puzzle is a worthwhile struggle for magazines. A Media Vest study found that print magazines still connect with some key demographics for the marketing industry: “The study, which relied in part on an online survey of 1,500 people 18 to 34 years old, also demonstrated that people’s expectations and goals in each medium depend on the subject. Some 55% of respondents said they use magazines at least once a week to stay up-to-date on entertainment and celebrity news, for example, while only 37% said they use the web for the same purpose. And 41% said they check magazines at least once a week for fashion and beauty news, compared with just 20% who said they use the web.”
Magazines are already reaching young and middle-aged adults, especially women. As it turns out, the 18 to 34 year old demographic is also critical to the success of Pinterest, and the similarities don’t stop there. Magazine readers are accustomed to viewing image-based ads in magazines and pinning images on Pinterest, and therefore, it’s only natural that magazines would want to explore the possibility of connecting Pinterest with the advertisements in their magazines.
With the arrival of the iPad, magazines already know that digital versions of magazines and their ads perform quite well when users encounter image-based ads while reading their content. According to a recent AdAge article,”Ads in the iPad edition generated 21% higher recall than ads in the print edition, while reader-action scores — registering actions such as visiting the advertiser’s website, getting a more favorable opinion of the brand or, in the case of iPad editions, clicking on the iPad screen — were 34% higher than in print. ‘The average percent of readers reporting that they visited an advertiser’s website as a direct result of an iPad ad was almost twice as high as ads in print,’ Affinity said.”
The print advertising experience is immersive and free from distractions, but as it turns out, ads can also prove quite effective online given the right viewing format. In addition, the opportunity to create click-throughs to an advertiser’s website makes online advertising especially appealing to brands who want to move beyond ad recall to converting sales. Magazines know that online versions can work if the user experience is ideal, but that has yet to effectively convert into image-based advertising on social networks in a significant way. In addition, it has remained unclear whether serious money can be made with online advertising and especially on high-traffic social networking sites.
Pinterest has already proven its worth to magazines even if it hasn’t turned into advertising revenue. Back in February 2012, Mashable was already reporting on the strides made by Pitnterest in the women’s magazine industry. Lauren Indvik wrote, “Pinterest is the fourth largest source of traffic for Country Living, up 150% from August to the end of January, and accounts for 3% of all referrals. It was the ninth largest traffic source for both Elle Decor and House Beautiful last month, both of which have seen triple-digit percentage increases in referrals over the last six months, and was among the top 10 referral sites for Self magazine.” As it turns out, these magazines address the key interest niches that show up on many pin boards, and their best images are the ideal fodder inspiration-driven Pinterest users.
Pinterest is keeping magazines in front of a lot of readers, and that is certainly having a positive impact on advertising revenue indirectly. However, that isn’t the only aspect of the online advertising puzzle for Pinterest. One magazine has pushed the limits of Pinterest and made critical connections between magazines, image-based advertising online, and social networking with a unique campaign that is being conducted on behalf of another company.
While brands using Pinterest have figured out ways to connect with customers and to generate interest in their products and websites, advertising on Pinterest and monetizing remain big question marks. Andrew Lipsman of research firm comScore noted in an April 2012 in The New York Times that “Pinterest is creating sort of a meritocracy of what’s visually appealing… Brands are scrambling and trying to figure it out. They know it’s going to be big, but they don’t necessarily know the best way to use it.” That lack of clarity may be on the brink of changing with a new Pinterest campaign by one magazine.
Women’s Health Magazine has taken a bold step toward trying to figure out a new way of using Pinterest for advertising by running a marketing promotion on behalf of one of its advertisers. According to Mashable, “The magazine, which attributes a whopping 25% of its referral traffic to the site, will invite readers to create ‘Sparkling Summer’ Pinterest boards incorporating images from the advertiser, Forevermark Diamonds. Participants will be eligible for a chance to receive a trip to a Women’s Health party in the Hamptons later this summer.”
The Sparkling Summer Contest is a relatively soft sell on Forever Mark Diamonds that incorporates pictures of celebrities or of jewelry into pin boards that feature anything from swim wear to food. The diamonds are present in the pin boards, but they aren’t overwhelming to viewers of the pin boards and can be easily overlooked by those who aren’t interested in them. If you review the contest’s instructions, you’ll find only one mention of the paid advertiser’s products in the list of bullet points:
Social media advertising campaigns have received mixed reviews in some contexts and advertisers tend to focus on driving traffic to their websites through social media, but this particular campaign could prove promising with its less intrusive approach. According to Mashable, Women’s Health is hoping that the familiarity of Pinterest users with contests and prizes will make this particular campaign effective. Brands such as Land’s End have led the way in creating “pin it, to win it” contests that have become a staple of Pinterest advertising and have even been adopted by nonprofits for fundraisers.
While there are plenty of examples of brands using Pinterest for promotions and contests, this particular Women’s Health campaign is unique since it is on behalf of another brand. In other words, Women’s Health has used Pinterest to build a strong brand presence and has now leveraged that investment to cash in with an advertiser by running a promotion on its pin boards.
There’s a chance that other brands could see this approach to third party ads as a way to convert their pin boards into legitimate advertising space. The one question that remains will be whether Pinterest will begin to restrict these kinds of ads. For the time being, hosting another company’s ads on a pin board promises to challenge brands to think more creatively about ways to generate revenue from their social media sites.
In addition, Pinterest has not used ads as a revenue generator, so there currently isn’t any source of competition on the Pinterest site. In fact, the founders of Pinterest have avoided publicly discussing a potential revenue model for the site. It took the Skimlinks controversy of February 2012 to draw them out and to publicly discuss their challenges in collecting revenue.
Pinterest founder Ben Silberman admitted to experimenting with Skimlinks as a way to monetize clicks on pins, but he has removed that service from the site. While ads are still a possibility on Pinterest, for the time being, brands can continue experimenting with their own pin boards and even monetizing them. This is good news for both brands trying to improve their advertising ROI and for companies who can increase their revenue through hosting third party ads on Pinterest.
This kind of experimentation with third party ads is particularly worthwhile for brands who want to either develop pin boards or to advertise on Pinterest more regularly. Several studies have shown that Pinterest can both drive traffic and generally convert more sales than a social media giant like Facebook. The main difference between the two is that Facebook focuses more on relationships and social interactions, while Pinterest caters to images, products, and interests.
The Internet Retailer site reports, “32% of online shoppers have made a purchase based on what they’ve seen on Pinterest and other image-sharing sites, according to a new survey from Bizrate Insights.” Image-based products are optimal for Pinterest’s grid-based lay out where products are less likely to be lost in the shuffle than on Facebook and generally lead to more click-throughs.
These findings have been backed up by individual brands. For example, Wayfair is an online home goods store that has seen much higher conversions from Pinterest. Lauren Indvik of Mashable reports, “Wayfair CEO Niraj Shah says that shoppers referred by Pinterest are more 10% more likely to make a purchase than visitors who arrive from other social networks, including Facebook and Twitter. They’ll also spend 10% more on average. The statistics are in some respects even more impressive when non-social channels are added in. On average, Pinterest referrals spend 70% more than visitors referred from non-social channels, including search.”
Even if some studies have found that Pinterest traffic converts at a lower rate, the amount each visitor spends per purchase more than makes up for it. In addition, brands will need to pay attention to the emergence of new stats about trends on Pinterest, such as how long users spend on Pinterest compared to other social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. If the time on site remains higher for Pinterest users than other social networks, brands will have even more incentive to develop imaginative new marketing campaigns either for themselves or for their partners.
Another noteworthy aspect of the Women’s Health promotion on Pinterest is that the company running the ads is a jewelry company: Forevermark Diamonds. This particular promotion is certainly strategic on the part of Women’s Health and Forevermark. Steve Gerenscer from Steam Driven Media shared with Search Engine Watch, “The average conversion rate from Pinterest traffic to jewelry sites [is] 4 to 5 percent.” That is much higher than the 1% that is typical for Pinterest conversions for website visitors.
Successful advertising has always rested on connecting an ad with the correct audience. There’s a good reason why Dorritos runs ads during the Super Bowl! Pinterest caters to women who are in the ideal demographic for purchasing jewelry. In addition, the design of Pinterest is extremely helpful in generating more clicks. Tom Edwards, VP of Digital Strategy at themarketingarm, shares with Forbes, “Visual images transcend language, evokes emotion and means something unique to each individual. So when you combine visual images + discoverability of content amplified by social relevance to the user, you get a powerful tool.”
Pinterest delivers the ideal online visual shopping experience, and therefore it makes sense that a visually appealing product is leading the marketing pack into this uncharted territory: visitors are in the mood to make a purchase after reviewing all of the possibilities on a pin board. For brands that don’t have products to sell on Pinterest like jewelry, there are still opportunities to create lifestyle pin boards and to attract more users in order to convert them into future sales.
If Women’s Health is successful at converting their campaign into a win for both brands while earning praise from users who don’t mind the presence of more ads on Pinterest, more brands in the fashion, food, beauty products, and home goods industries could increase their engagement on Pinterest in the near future.
Cynthia Boris of Marketing Pilgrim notes that challenges remain for Pinterest in relation to advertising. “It should be easy to insert graphical ads in amongst all the clutter on a page but if the creators get heavy-handed, users are going to head for the hills. Affiliate deals are part of the mix and they could offer promoted placement for a price.” The current promotion with Forevermark Diamonds may only represent a tentative step forward into the potentially murky world of advertising on Pinterest. In the future, some brands may push the envelope and draw the ire of users.
At this point, the monetization strategy for Pinterest is a moving target ,as are the rules for brand engagement. While the sharpest brands know to avoid overselling on Pinterest, many question marks remain around Pinterest and marketing. Will the incentives offered in pinning contests and promotions continue to appeal to users? Will Pinterest become saturated with contests to the point that they become a liability for users? Will Pinterest add new restrictions for brands in the future as it nails down a firm advertising strategy? Will users abandon Pinterest if brands begin to clutter their pin boards with ads? Will users revolt?
Every investment in Pinterest at this point is essentially an experiment with uncertain ROI, even if some brands have firm numbers demonstrating success with Pinterest as a marketing tool. The current promotion by Women’s Health may well succeed only as a fluke or as a quickly fading novelty.
Pinterest remains new enough that it has yet to make any bold changes to its advertising policy. This story is still unfolding, and so marketers will need to pay attention to the developments on Pinterest and shift their strategies accordingly.
The one thing that remains true is that images are powerful tools for conveying a message and, therefore, for selling products. Pinterest makes it incredibly easy to share the best images widely and to generate a ton of click-throughs from very popular demographics. It’s only sensible to expect that brands will try to develop new marketing and monetization strategies in order to capitalize on all that Pinterest has to offer.