Pinterest Fully Opens Its Ad Spigot to Every Small and Medium-Sized Advertiser

Increases targeting options from 30 to 420 interests

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Pinterest ads are getting more pointed. After 18 months of beta testing a self-serve platform that lets brands buy ads, the site is opening the tool to all small and midsize brands in the U.S. today.

In addition to opening up Pinterest's ad-buying tool, Promoted Pins Ads Manager, the social site is also upping the number of interest-level targeting options from 30 to 420. Previously, brands could only buy ads based on 30 broad user interests like food, beauty and fashion. Now targeting is more specific, with marketers able to buy ads against phrases such as "healthy food," "sustainable architecture" and "street-style fashion." 

"Pinterest knows more about the interest of its users than any other platforms," said Nipoon Malhotra, Pinterest's ad products lead. "This is very different from a graph that represents something you browsed a month ago."

Pinterest also reports that marketers that have spent at least $1 per day advertising on the social platform see a 20 percent increase in clicks on their posts. That number includes brands that have run Promoted Pin campaigns for at least a month beginning last July.

July was also around the same time Pinterest announced its first ad-tech partners that sell Promoted Pins by plugging into the company's API. The ad-tech companies can now match a brand's customer information—like an email list—with Pinterest's data to create audience segments.

Between November and February, Industry West upped its Pinterest spend by 200 percent, and 16 percent of the brand's sales came from Pinterest-generated traffic, said Ian Leslie, marketing chief for the online furniture retailer.

"Pinterest is currently the overwhelming majority of our social spend," Leslie said.

Industry West has also experimented with vertical-oriented Pinterest posts that are geared for mobile. The brand typically shoots its collections of chairs and tables from four to five angles—many of which look best in a square frame. But since smartphone users tend to scroll through news feeds quickly, Industry West creates vertical pins by stacking square-shaped photos on top of each other.

"When we were initially advertising, it was putting up product as it came in, but there were no collections, no context [and] not a lot of creative around the pins that we were putting up," Leslie said. "We changed that in November and started to get more into deeper pins, both literally and figuratively—giving looks at the same piece and going more vertical with the pins, adding a bit more creative to it, including our logo and calls to action."

Workout and nutrition brand Daily Burn is another small advertiser that's been using Pinterest to zero in on fitness beginners.

"Pinterest user behavior is unique given that browser behavior is often driven by looking for new ideas for things to do rather than just one specific thing," said Kevin Ranford, head of marketing at Daily Burn. "This plays well for our demo [and is] very differentiated from competitors targeting experts with images of often overly chiseled people."

Are big brands next?

While self-serve tools are the primary way that small- to medium-sized companies buy ads, big brands like Kraft must work directly with Pinterest to create campaigns.

But it's not a stretch to imagine big brands getting the same access to the self-service tools as Pinterest ramps up its ad business. In the past year, the San Francisco-based company has added visual search, new types of keyword-based targeting and cinematic video ads.

However, Larry Lac, director of social marketing at Havas Worldwide, New York, cautioned that big brands may have a harder time than smaller marketers creating their own native ads.

"There's a lot of lessons that big brands can learn from these mid-to-smaller brands," Lac said. "Big brands can win on Pinterest if they don't try to port big brand strategy on the immediate capabilities—where you see the nimbleness of small brands come through is that they're not afraid to develop these innovative approaches."

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