How Pinterest Got the Full Attention of Ad Agency Execs

Better features for marketers and consumers

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Pinterest is getting serious about becoming a formidable digital advertising player, and agency executives are taking notice.

"What Pinterest has accomplished in the last nine months is the most evolution of any platform," said Chris Tuff, evp and director of business development and partnerships at 22Squared. For comparison, Tuff said it took Facebook four and a half years to build the same kind of sophisticated ad tools that Pinterest is pitching.

On Monday, the site launched a search feature that uses photos to comb through millions of product images. For example, someone looking at a picture of a table can zero in on finding similar tables by tapping on the Pin to start a search result without typing a word. Up until now, people have only been able to search on Pinterest with text queries.

Marketers won't be able to buy visual search ads like they've been able to with text search ads, which debuted in early 2014. Pinterest hasn't said whether visual search ads were part of its future plans, but that scenario seems likely. The visual-search move should prove popular to users—which will help maintain marketers' attention for the Pinterest ad products that currently exist. In January, Pinterest opened its Promoted Pins advertising business to all U.S. advertisers. Then in May, the San Francisco-based company started offering more targeting and video promos.

"If you're looking at where Pinterest can truly start stealing dollars from Google," Tuff said, "it's not necessarily for brand [keyword] terms—it's more for the non-brand terms. Pinterest will not only compete, but also win those dollars."

Other agency execs say that Pinterest's trove of data—born from 100 million monthly users who are looking to take actions based on posts—could make it a surprise hit with retailers this holiday season. For example, targeting keywords like "cool jacket" and "ski jacket" works well for a brand like Patagonia. Unlike making a Google search, Pinterest users do not usually look for specific brands and the purchase cycle is longer.

Greg Andersen, president of Rapp U.S., agreed that Pinterest's advertising potential is more akin to Google than social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. He said that the site's addition of Buyable Pins—which include 60 million shoppable posts—gives it a leg up over Google and possibly e-commerce heavyweights like Amazon.

"Pinterest is positioning itself not only to make gains on Google in terms of intent-driven search, but also to compete with major e-commerce platforms as well," Andersen said. "The power of the Pinterest platform is in tapping into the consumer's purchase mindset at all stages of its process from inspiration, discovery and now all the way through the purchase itself."

Pinterest's data is also ripe for advertising off of the platform, said Mindshare North America's chief strategy officer Jordan Bitterman. For an auto client, Mindshare learned that black cars sell best when there is snow on the ground. So applying third-party weather data on top of Pinterest's trend information can be an effective way to reach interested people in cold areas of the country.

"Where Pinterest gets interesting is when we can combine the insights that we glean from its users along with other third-party or first-party data," Bitterman said.

To that point, retailers like Nordstrom have been experimenting with in-store merchandising tactics based on Pinterest data for the past couple of years. Now that more brands are playing with Pinterest's data, shoppers could expect to see more Pinterest-recommended products in stores this year.

"We think taking Pinterest data and using it as social proof inside your store and taking content and putting it on your own e-commerce site are excellent best practices that we're going to see a lot more retailers use this holiday," said Jason Goldberg, svp of commerce and content at Razorfish.

The in-store experience is particularly lucrative since the majority of retail sales still take place in brick-and-mortar stores. And with more retailers arming employees with iPads that ring up digital sales during the holidays, Goldberg is betting bigger on Pinterest this year.

"Being able to take things like ratings and reviews and exposing them to shoppers in the store is a huge, untapped opportunity," said Goldberg.

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.