Can Branded Content Validate Yahoo’s Tumblr Buy?

david hayesSince Yahoo’s maligned acquisition of Tumblr, many insiders have questioned its value as a marketing tool. Yahoo has made some overtures toward answering that.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said during the company’s Q3 2014 call last October that she expected Tumblr to drive $100 million in 2015 revenue, and that users increased 40% in 15 months to 420 million (considerably more than Twitter’s).

The company also has emphasized the value of the Tumblr reblog to build engaged audience, and it introduced sponsored posts that can be pushed out as display units to Yahoo’s owned and operated properties.

Tumblr’s head of creative strategy, David Hayes, said the latter feature “changed the whole conversation with brands.” Still, it’s not quite as sexy as the old hints (and only hints) that Yahoo might leverage Tumblr’s logged-in, app-using audience to enable some sort of cross-device targeting.

Still, Hayes said the microblog is a central part of Yahoo’s marketer courtship.

“I’ve been in and out at the Ritz doing pitches and agency talks and I’m usually paired with someone from Yahoo,” he told AdExchanger while at the Cannes Lions festival. “They lead their pitches with Tumblr and close them with Tumblr.” Yahoo is positioning Tumblr as a template to build a microsite for cheap that doesn’t look like a Tumblr blog at all.

“Every modern theatrical website, which are quite complex beasts, is on Tumblr,” said Hayes, who prior to joining the company in 2013 served as VP of digital marketing at the film studio Lionsgate. “Theatrical websites, TV shows, they’re all built on Tumblr.”

For Hayes, Tumblr’s positioning as the content marketing platform within Yahoo’s ad stack is what creates the value.

“Once we had the top 20 movie studios building websites on Tumblr, we took that proof and that huge portfolio of work and took it to the Fords and big CPGs brands, and said, ‘Look at all the websites being built on Tumblr,’” he said. “These conversations with brands are great because they can validate the acquisition.”

Hayes spokes with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: Why would studios agree to use Tumblr to host the microsites for their movies?

DAVID HAYES: Movie marketing campaigns are in a bit of a shrink and need to cut costs. One of the first things I did when I came from the studio side was I went right back to Lionsgate and back to Sony Pictures and told them: “Here’s how you can save money: Instead of spending $100,000 building a website, spend $20,000 building a site using one of the Tumblr themes, then take the $80,000 you saved and spend it on media.”

When did that start?

I got to Tumblr in January of 2013. By May of 2013, we’d hit the top 20 studios and networks all regularly building theatrical websites. Since then we’ve had Verizon build a corporate Verizon answers. We’ve had candy brands like Trolli. Hyundai’s World Cup site was built on Tumblr. Samsung cameras.

The only reason you might not see it more often is because creative shops might not want to build on Tumblr because they might want to keep their offering [and] their service price high.

But it’s all gonna change because the pressure to have budget content marketing is very high. All marketers, movie industry or not, want to cut costs, so they’ll do it on the site so they can spend more on content.

How exactly does Tumblr fit into the Yahoo advertising ecosystem?

All of our ad technology is powered by Yahoo. There’s a much greater degree of targeting and specificity you can offer brands on Tumblr and across the Yahoo world.

What was your take when WPP, Snapchat and Dailymail announced a joint initiative to create a content agency called Truffle Pig?

The Snapchat announcement is great for anyone that doesn’t understand the brand-as-publisher movement, or hasn’t bought into it yet.

It’s a little unclear what it is.

The release was one of the most beautifully worded vague things I’ve ever read. Like nine parties involved, but no clear resolution on how it actually works.

I had a lot of clients walk up to me last night and say, “Sucks for you.” It’s actually awesome for us. Where do you think that content is going to come from? We’ve been doing it for almost two years now. We figured out all the hard stuff.

The whole concept of content marketing isn’t new, though.

It’s a display-based world where your ads are always on, but ignored. Then you had interruptive moments where you had big page takeovers and floaters. I designed those for eight years at a movie studio. That was my bread and butter: How interruptive can you get?

One of the big ones I did was [Sylvester] Stallone on a brand channel for “The Expendables,” where he’s being interviewed by Shira Lazar. Suddenly he looks at the right-rail thumbnails and there are these assassins coming in. So it becomes this shootout in the brand channel page. That’s pretty interruptive.

Now you’re doing the opposite at Tumblr.

Eye-tracking tests have proven we’ve already internalized where to ignore a display ad. But display is still gargantuan. I’m passionate about content marketing and native advertising because I did all that stuff and I saw the statistics on the lack of click-throughs. It was depressing trying to figure out how to make a better way. But it didn’t exist until today.

Facebook and Apple are trying to be less interruptive as well. You’re betting this will catch on?

Companies like Facebook and Apple are trying to attack that infrastructure. But it makes sense because I don’t know how to put a display ad on a mobile phone to begin with. There’s no room.

It slows the web page loading. Everything on your phone is based on speed, so it’s much more upsetting when I take a long time to load, just so I can interrupt you and force you to wait for 10 more seconds. Especially when you just want to know what time the movie is showing.

Will the measurement variables change?

All platforms and brands are beginning to understand that the variables you measure on desktop might be time spent total. On mobile, you’re also looking at return business throughout the day.

We think it’ll be return sessions across a 24-hour period. You’ll never get someone staring at their phone for seven straight minutes. The question is: How many times a day do you return to the app?

Is there an ideal?

We want a consistent pattern – we get you in the morning and in the evening. A year from now, everyone will have that number. “People returned to the app 22 times a day or 10 times a day!”

You’ve got traffic moving in circular patterns where it’s in-app, bounces back to Safari, then back into the app. It’s fascinating because it happens so quickly. That’s something I think people will study more.

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