Pinterest Plays Coy on Ads, but Expect Commerce to Lead

CEO Silbermann preaches a native, user-friendly commercial approach

A coy Ben Silbermann wasn’t saying much today about how he plans to incorporate advertising into Pinterest, the site he founded back in 2009. But it’s a good bet Pinterest advertising will be native-looking and centered on commerce.

Silbermann sat for a rare keynote interview at the Conversational Marketing Summit in New York, one of the many events unfolding during Internet Week. He was asked very pointedly by Federated CEO John Battelle, “Do you have a business model?”

And in classic tech startup fashion, Silbermann emphasized that Pinterest’s ad approach would be about making things better for its users.

“Well, we haven’t announced anything specific. Everything comes back to our mission as a company,” he said. “Our mission is that we want to help people discover these things they are really passionate about. And inspire them to go to do those things. And there’s often a direct link between the things that people are passionate about and things they are planning in the future and the things they spend money on.”

In fact, sometimes that takes the form of pin boards that read something like, “Shoes I want to buy.” But other times, its more about Pinterest identifying life stages, Silbermann explained. The company can often tell when people are about to get married, buy a house or start a family based on what they are pinning.

It’s the place we go to put a project like that together and get inspiration from other people. And I think that speaks to how we’ll eventually monetize the site. We’ll try and fulfill people’s desires to make inspiration into reality.”

Pinterest has provided some clues to date. Just this week, it introduced a set of tools that allows brands to include current data in pins, such as recipes or current prices. The company has also rolled out analytics that help brands gain insight into what pins are resonating on the giant Web social bulletin board.

Said Silbermann: “The companies that I really admire the most at the ones that have a deep visceral understanding of why people use their service and they figure out ways of making money that are completely consistent with how people are feeling and what they are doing at the time.”

Prior to talking with Silbermann, Battelle sat for an entertaining keynote interview with Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia. The confident entrepreneur noted that the TV industry often starts by fighting with new technology, whether it be the remote control, VCR or DVR, and only to get on board and investing in such new businesses.

"I really don't understand the [industry's] reaction," he said. In Kanojia's eyes, TV execs believe, "If it ain't me, I'll try to control it."

In fact, Kanojia sees TV networks profiting from services like Aereo, which he believes would lead to more targeted, data-driven, hyper local ads.

And despite ongoing legal battles, Kanojia expressed total confidence that Aereo would succeed. "I think it's a forgone conclusion," he said. "The bigger the challenge, the bigger the reward."

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