Once belittled as an insubstantial electronic scrapbook with narrow appeal, the 2-year-old website Pinterest is maturing into a marketing monster.
Visits to the site have increased more than 4,000 percent in less than a year, vaulting it to the No. 3 spot in social-media popularity behind only Facebook and Twitter.
Some big-name retailers are taking not only notice, but also action, building online stores there to show off their products in hopes of generating passionate “re-pins” and purchases.
That’s a huge, and largely unanticipated, leap for Pinterest, considering that its not-so-flashy birth tattooed it with the unhip mark of a mere corkboard on which users post (or “pin”) photos and other graphics related to their interests and hobbies, such as fashion, cooking and home decorating.
Some observers sneered at the demographics of Pinterest’s early adopters. “Basically, it’s a digital version of scrapbooking,” wrote Newsweek’s Dan Lyons in March, “and it’s all the rage with women, who by some estimates make up more than 90 percent of all users.”
But marketing-services firm Experian’s “2012 Digital Marketer” report calls Pinterest “the hottest social media start-up since Facebook and YouTube.” (By the way, Experian says the real share of women users is 58 percent.)
Pinterest’s mission statement is as pumped up as its growth. The digital scrapbooks, the company boasts, “connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting.”
Some social media and marketing experts say the key to Pinterest’s power is the single word “things,” specifically images of things.
Writing in Advertising Age, Antony Young, CEO of Mindshare, a media-marketing firm, said, “(W)e’re seeing a consumer movement toward a more visual culture brought on by technology and media. Smarter devices are prompting more occasions for people to create and consume visual content, while social media is encouraging that content to be shared on multiple platforms.”
More pumped-up language, but Young’s examples clarify his meaning. He compared the impulse to post images of things, places, design elements and commercial graphics to “an earlier generation collect(ing) LPs and bumper stickers, as their version of defining and projecting their individual identity.” Pinterest abounds with its users’ lifestyle yearnings and preferences, as they liberally make unpaid endorsements of branded consumer goods.
In March, the marketing conglomerate WPP posted on its online Reading Room an essay, “Time To Act on Pinterest,” by Hannah Mirza, Mindshare’s head of worldwide digital operations. Mirza advised brand managers to become “early adopters,” and to “start building out content segments for areas they want to own.”
Many retailers have started to do so, including Target, Nordstrom, Victoria’s Secret, Whole Foods Market, Domino Sugar, Coldwell Banker and Benjamin Moore Paints.
Benjamin Moore’s main page, linked here, shows how a brand uses Pinterest to attract customers. In form, the page appears similar to those of ordinary users, with a uniform design template across the site. But all of the sub-pages push a product line, such as a set of colors chosen by Candice Olson, a designer. Users can follow that sub-page, pin colors from it on their own boards, then discuss the colors.
Beneath the image of a blob of “HC-172 revere pewter,” a color specialist, Donna Frasca, wrote it “can truly be one of the best grays out there.” Dozens of Pinterest users have re-pinned that one swatch, including a young wife and mother from Virginia, who included it in a page she called “Our bedroom and bathroom.” Her page had images of throw pillows, a dresser, a log holder and accent tiles. Of the throw pillows, she wrote: “Really want these in porcelain blue for our new master. Hmm, birthday is coming people.”
And of the Benjamin Moore paint swatch, the woman wrote: “I love this. Can’t go wrong with this one!” Underneath it is a link back to the Benjamin Moore page, in case Pinterest pinners want to see other colors from the Candice Olson collection.
In a column for Socialmedia.biz, Chris Abraham, president of the social-media marketing firm Social Ally, added another level of urgency for businesses hesitating about Pinterest: “If you’re not on Pinterest, you’re already losing control of your visual brand.”
Because they don’t want their images used in an unapproved context, some brands block people from pinning them to Pinterest, but Abraham doesn’t recommend that. Instead, he challenges marketers to consider whether “there [is] a way to interpret your data, products, services, history, narrative and passion in cartoons, illustrations, charts, photographs, jokes, Internet memes and amusing photos.”
If the company’s visualizations are beautiful, interesting or funny enough to attract “pins,” Abraham writes, “you might very well become part of the vision boards people are pinning together every day in order to harness the power of intention in their lives.”
Another class of marketers is taking notice of Pinterest as well: political advocates.
President Obama’s re-election campaign has a Pinterest page that features infographics akin to the cartoons and illustrations that Abraham recommends, such as the much-discussed “The Life of Julia,” about how Obama’s policies for women contrast with Mitt Romney’s, the presumed Republican nominee for president.
Romney does not have an official Pinterest site, although many users pin images of and about him. Not all, however, support Romney. A user from Baltimore recently pinned a picture of a swimming pool purportedly at one of Romney’s homes. The caption started with a strong denunciation of Romney, then ended on, “… but his pool is pretty sweet.”