Yahoo Still Looking to Ignite Tumblr’s Ad Potential

Target is 2014

Trending on Tumblr: advertising.

Four months since its acquisition by Yahoo, the hip publishing platform continues to feel its way as many advertisers grapple with how and why they should tap into its 143 million network of blogs.

Tumblr’s next push will be to help brands “amplify” their presence in a variety of ways, sales chief Lee Brown told Adweek. Brown pointed to several areas on Tumblr still untouched by advertising that may soon be open for business. For instance, the “Trending” section on its mobile app, where users are directed to what’s hot on Tumblr, is ripe inventory. “You could certainly see how we could start to think about sponsored opportunities within that environment,” said Brown.

While serving such sponsored content may prove tricky with a sensitive user base prone to rebelling over ad intrusions, it helps that rivals like Twitter and Facebook already have cleared the way. Twitter serves Promoted Trends, and when Tumblr begins doing something similar, it likely won’t shock users.

“Playing in an established market is good for Tumblr,” noted Peter Minnium, head of brand initiatives at the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

But Tumblr has yet to prove itself as a marketing machine on par with rivals. In fact, several big brands and agencies say it’s not a priority for them, with several citing Tumblr’s perceived abundance of porn as one deterrent. “It’s not high on our list,” said one top agency exec.

To be fair, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer—upon inking the deal to buy David Karp’s New York-based startup for $1.1 billion—identified 2014 as the year the platform is expected to add real value to the company’s bottom line.

Automakers Ford, Lexus, Audi and Toyota are among those with a publishing presence on Tumblr.

Toyota’s Southeast regional arm, with its agency 22squared, recently created a Tumblr page for the 2014 Corolla and reached out to influencers on the network to help spread the word. Chris Tuff, director of emerging media at 22squared, said that to reach the coveted millennial demo “you absolutely need to be on Tumblr.”

What 22squared didn’t do was actually pay Tumblr to promote the campaign, turning instead to Facebook and Twitter, which unlike Tumblr can geotarget by region. Geotargeting would have been key for a regional campaign like Toyota’s.

Some industry watchers note that Tumblr is at the stage Facebook was a few years ago when companies like GM publicly said they didn’t need a paid presence on the social network.

“We look forward to testing Tumblr as a platform for creative showcase,” said Vik Kathuria, MediaCom/Group M’s managing director of digital investment, corporate strategy, “along with Yahoo’s personalization technology to help users discover relevant content.