Pinterest Is Making a Play for Big-Brand Dollars With Its First Video Ads

General Mills, Universal Pictures have tested scroll-based promos

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Pinterest is ready to compete alongside Facebook, YouTube and others for video ad budgets, but it's going about it differently than its competitors.

Today, the company is launching its first video format as the next step in the process of building an ad business. Earlier this month, Pinterest quietly rolled out a video player that lets users and brands upload and store clips of any length straight to the site.

Just like every other major tech company—namely Facebook, Snapchat, Google, Twitter and Tumblr—video is part of Pinterest's recent efforts to beef up revenue with interactive ads that typically cost more than static formats. But Pinterest claims its pitch to advertisers is a bit different from its competitors, as 55 percent of the platform's users find or shop for products, and 75 percent of content consumed derives from businesses.

"One of the places where we think we differentiate is Pinterest is a place where people go to discover things and inspire them, but they also want to take action," said Mike Bidgoli, Pinterest's ads product manager. "What we want to do with video is not just drive views for the advertiser but actually enable actions."

Using the site's recently launched video player, brands can now run paid video ads that look like animated posts. Brands first pick a few scenes of the video to preview in the post that appears in social feeds. Video ads mimic Pinterest's existing cinematic pins, which let users fast-forward or replay a scene by swiping up and down the screen.

Focusing on scrolling videos could help differentiate Pinterest's from other types of social video, said Torrey Taralli, paid social director for Fetch U.S.

"It will force the creative teams to think in a much shorter time frame about what content [or] message they really want to get across and how they can do it as quickly as possible," Taralli said. "In that way, it's a bit different than other platforms. But it really comes down to why users are there and what they are trying to do while they are on that particular social network."

Once someone clicks on an ad, the sound automatically kicks in, and the video expands across the screen to play. Underneath the video, pins link to products featured in the video. Beauty tutorial videos, for example, may link to the products used to create certain looks. And a home-decorating brand could link to DIY tips or projects.

According to Pinterest, is making the move into video because the number of posts linked to videos saved by users has increased 60 percent in the past year. Video ads are initially only available on mobile, which makes up more than 80 percent of Pinterest's traffic, but a desktop rollout is planned in the future.

Pinterest is charging the promos on a cost-per-impression model, and 12 brands—including General Mills' Old El Paso, Universal Pictures, L'Oréal-owned Garnier—have tested the ad format. Kate Spade New York, Lionsgate, Purina, Behr paint and bareMinerals makeup all plan to launch video campaigns in the next few weeks. Video ads are only available to Pinterest's biggest advertisers that work with reps to organize their ad buys. They are not available to companies that only use its marketing developers program or self-serve ads platform.

Video ads are also one of the first examples of how Pinterest is going after big budgets from a wide swath of brands outside of consumer-packaged goods or retail verticals. Since hiring Google vet Jon Kaplan earlier this year, Pinterest has begun to move into categories like financial services, travel and entertainment.

Pinterest's initial tests with video also indicate that people are willing to watch long-form video on the platform. The video player supports any length of video, and completion rates in the pilot were "high," according to Pinterest, though it didn't provide exact percentages.

"On one hand, we saw the actual users on the platform," Bidgoli said. "On the other side, the market for video, the demand for premium inventory that's brand-safe—it's incredibly high. We constantly got this feedback from our sales team, especially as we're entering new verticals."

Deep Focus' founder and chairman Ian Schafer said marketers have struggled with shoppable social and video for years, but Pinterest is different given that its users have a shopping mindset.

"Shoppable pins introduce a very nice complement to the video feature, encouraging a transaction—something I expect retailers and brands to be keenly interested [in]," Schafer said, "especially since shoppable pins have already been delivering results for many of them."

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