Tumblr Turns to Mobile Ads as Pressure Mounts for Greater Revenue

Less than a year after Tumblr made the inevitable decision to place ads on its site, the company is now introducing sponsored posts to its mobile apps. During a trial period that will carry through the end of May, Tumblr’s mobile apps users will begin seeing ads from GE, Pepsi, Warner Bros., ABC Entertainment and ABC Family.

After balking at advertising-based revenue models for years, Tumblr’s chief executive David Karp appears to have had a change of heart that has progressed over the last year. “The content our brand partners have created is more than just advertising – it is thoughtful, beautiful and diverse content that fits seamlessly alongside the best work on our network,” Karp notes in a statement. Tumblr is taking a page out of other playbooks for social advertising by following the sponsored post framework of others like Facebook and Twitter. Now that Tumblr has built an active community of supporters and users, it is facing heightened pressure to seek out new revenue streams.

“As an advertising platform, mobile has a potentially higher value than the desktop because of the ubiquity of mobile devices in and out of the home and the fact that they can offer more sophisticated targeting criteria such as that based on location,” notes Eric Mugnier, senior vice president at M&C Saatchi Mobile in New York.

“Revenue from mobile advertising will only increase as desktop relevance lessens and even more sophisticated targeting capability is put in place for mobile. The ad unit, customer experience and targeting capability is what will make the difference between a great mobile advertising product, and Tumblr will have to make sure their product delivers on all this elements. If not, it will only be an impressions delivering platform less relevant for mobile advertisers.”

Katrina Craigwell, manager of digital marketing at GE, says the company is connecting with an audience that’s passionate about science and technology on Tumblr. “While sharing is an inherent part of the network, we’re excited by the opportunity to boost mobile discoverability through these new ad capabilities,” she says.

“The Tumblr unit is yet another great case where we have to lead with the strength of our content. It allows us to communicate our value proposition on the platform very clearly. We aim to deliver unique and awesome visuals of badass machines,” Craigwell adds.

“Tumblr is fantastic for visual content, and that’s a big focus for us. At the GE Tumblr we lead with our GIF content, which features everything from jet engines to locomotives, to our people at work around the world,” notes Craigwell. “If we’re not adding value through the content, then we’re not getting it quite right.”


“We’ve also found a great audience for thoughtful article-based content,” she adds. “About a month ago we ran a post on the Edison vs. Tesla panel at SXSW and shared it through Radar (Tumblr’s desktop based ad product). It garnered roughly 2,000 notes that day and continues to travel.”

As excited as brands like GE are about promoting their content on Tumblr through sponsored posts, the industry at large will be keeping an eye on the level of sophistication and insights that Tumblr can deliver to brands through investments in targeted advertising. Mugnier has little doubt that Tumblr has been watching what Facebook and Twitter are doing to grow mobile revenues, and is now replicating some of those models on its platform.

“The future clearly points to social media as a very lucrative source of advertising revenue and we are still at the very early stages,” he notes. “This is what is driving Tumblr towards an ad-funded mobile future.”

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