Publishers Are in Love With This New Photo Platform

Useful for advertisers, too

In a world where half of Facebook posts are now images, Web editors swoon over responsive design and brands place photos in tweets, it’s clear the Internet has become a more visual place. Now, one company is looking to exploit the love of pictures with a product that both editors and advertisers can use to make digital images more interactive, engaging and, perhaps most importantly, super shareable.

“If you communicate through an image, people engage with it—we know that because of Facebook,” said Neil Vineberg, CMO of the two-year-old startup ThingLink. “And if you put content inside an image, the engagements go crazy.” Vineberg observed that images embedded with videos, annotations or links see clickthrough rates of as much as 50 percent.

Forbes recently started using ThingLink to enhance its storytelling on the Web, turning a pictorial of the Forbes 400 into an interactive infographic complete with videos, story links and data. Want to know more about Oprah or Warren Buffet? Just hover over a button embedded in the picture, then click.

Some 100,000 other publishers have signed on.

“In digital publishing, the tools will set you free,” said Lewis DVorkin, chief product officer at Forbes. “What they’ve done here is something really shrewd. They’ve turned the photo into a content- discovery platform.”

Marketers are also gravitating to ThingLink. Giorgio Armani and Alberto-Culver’s Alberto VO5 have used it to create content designed to get passed around in social media, while Digitas has briefed nearly all its clients on ThingLink.

“This speaks to two macro trends in online advertising: brands acting as publishers and native advertising,” said Jordan Bitterman, svp, director of social marketing practice at Digitas. “Engaging with images is key to both. Call it the Pinterest-ization of the Web. That’s been a big catalyst. You’re seeing brands’ community managers doing more with images, and the next obvious evolution is to make them come alive.”

Creating branded content is one thing. But CBS Corp., which is already using ThingLink technology to enhance display ads on and CNET, is now mulling getting its editors on board.

“What’s not to like about this?” said Dave Morris, chief client officer at CBS. “You get bigger, better ads that cut through clutter, more interaction and more analytics.”

Still, most think the startup’s big opportunity lies in native advertising, not banners.

“My honest opinion is, any business where 99.9 percent of the public doesn’t engage with it is a fail,” said ThingLink’s Vineberg.

“I feel that display is dead territory; I don’t think it can be saved,” he added. “But my feeling is that in the next three years, things are going to start to…mix into the page as native, and ThingLink enables it.”