Pinterest and Instagram: The Birth of Banner Ads

Cheryl Catts

October 2, 2013

Launching a new social media site is kind of like having a baby (stick with me). There is no way to know from the beginning what the site is going to be like when it “grows up.” Yet, you start one because you’re excited about nurturing it, and you think your gene pool has something to contribute. And if you’re good, the odds are in your favor that it will someday go on to do some good in the world, make something of itself, and be more successful than you were.

Where we might start to veer in our baby/social media analogy is that the ultimate hope for the social media site (or any business venture) is that it brings us buckets of money. Right? We don’t necessarily wish for the same thing with a baby, although none of us would be all too upset if our offspring became the next Zuckerberg. But since web developers and internet entrepreneurs aren’t held to the same moral code in rearing their sites, we really can’t blame them for finding ways to monetize their idea once it has been established.

In recent news, both Pinterest and Instagram have announced the addition of banner ads to their sites. As a user, I’ll admit that I’m not thrilled. As a marketer, however, this is good news. And I definitely can’t criticize the desire of these sites to adopt this model (just like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter before them). They have developed a product people are coo coo for, gotten us all hooked, and now they reap the rewards.

So, as details are emerging, here’s what you need to know about each.

Pinterest – According to an email released to Pinterest members and on the Pinterest blog, Ben Silbermann, CEO and co-founder, announced that the company is in a testing phase for promoted pins in certain categories. He said that they are determined not to let users’ pages get filled with banners ads. So what does this mean for you?

  • Promoted pins will be transparent. If it comes from an advertiser it will be marked as such.
  • Pins will be relevant to the user. The assumption (although not stated directly by Pinterest) is that there will be tools in place to analyze a subscriber’s current pins and determine what the person’s interests are and what they might be interested in seeing more of.
  • While going through this testing phase, the company has an open door policy. Pinterest is looking for feedback and input on the way the ads are affecting users – positively or negatively.
  • At this point, the company has said that promoted pins won’t show up in users’ streams, but rather in category searches.

Instagram – After some revolt last December over a misunderstanding that Instagram had plans to sell private photos to advertisers, Instagram has cooled publically on its plans for advertising. However, they haven’t backed down from the message that they are a company intending to make money. This September, Instagram reached 150 million active users, a number that signaled the announcement that they’re ready to move forward with their advertising model.

  • Emily White, COO, said, “We want to make money in the long term, but we don’t have any short-term pressure.” At this point they are only saying that they will be ready to implement advertising within the next year.
  • No plans have yet been announced for what the ads will look like, but the Wall Street Journal suggested that they might be located in the Discover function and in search results.
  • Ownership of photos and privacy rights won’t change for the advertising model.
  • Instagram is determined to keep the “cool” user interface people are accustomed to. Many large brands already have followers of thousands, if not millions, where they essentially display their branded messages for free already.

There is still much to see for how advertising will roll out on both platforms, but we can’t argue that this is the way things are going. As marketers, we have the privilege of being right on the cusp of everything that is happening on the most popular social platforms, but we don’t have to worry about making any of the tricky managerial decisions. Now that I think about it, it’s kind of like being the really cool aunt or uncle to the World’s Most Interesting Man.