Pinterest’s CMO on the Company’s Unique Approach to Growth and Burgeoning Ad Business

Andréa Mallard spoke at Brandweek: Challenger Brands

Mallard said that Pinterest is a place where 'brands don’t interrupt the user.' Sean T. Smith for Adweek
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

Pinterest just might be the internet’s most undervalued platform.

The company, once grouped together with other social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, has managed to forge its own path and remain a place where people go to be inspired. While other platforms are plagued by ongoing harassment or data breach issues, Pinterest isn’t—which the company’s new CMO, Andréa Mallard, attributes to the founders who knew growth at any cost wasn’t the right path for them.

On Thursday, at Brandweek: Challenger Brands in New York, Mallard touched upon Pinterest’s status as a unicorn in the industry, how advertisers are using the platform and why context is everything.

A different approach to growth

For Mallard, a big part of what drew her to Pinterest was the company’s “deliberate and thoughtful” mindset about growing.

“There are plenty of levers that we could’ve pulled to juice growth or to juice addictiveness [but] we chose not to because that’s not what the founders were all about, it’s never been what the company’s about,” Mallard said. “This is the one place where we say it’s about yourself, not your selfie.”

Since joining, Mallard said the office atmosphere is relatively calm, despite the company’s unicorn status. (Pinterest is currently valued between $13 and $15 billion and is slated to go public at some point this year.)

“While [Pinterest] is a unicorn and we are going in that path and always will be, the atmosphere in the office is very thoughtfully preserved, which I appreciate because it allows you to make better decisions,” Mallard said. “I put the noise going on aside.”

However, Mallard didn’t shy away from the possibility of Pinterest making a mistake when it comes to growth. She said the company isn’t “completely immune to it.”

Consumers want inspiration from brands

Pinterest’s ad business—despite being an almost nine-year-old company—is relatively new, having started just four years ago. Mallard explained that the company was focused on making the platform great for its users first. That means surfacing content for users that’s “inspirational” and “curated.”

“It’s so hyper-personalized and so hyper-localized,” Mallard said. “So, you really do get great content no matter where you are.”

Now that Pinterest does have a growing ad business on the platform, she said it’s the company’s job to teach brands “how to become more inspirational.”

“To inspire is to be intellectually generous, to give as much as you can to your potential customer and teach them something and challenge their thinking,” Mallard said.

See, unlike other platforms, almost 97 percent of all searches on Pinterest are unbranded. So, users are coming to the site looking for the right content; they aren’t necessarily looking for a certain brand’s yoga pants—they’re just looking for yoga pants in general. Because of this dynamic between the user and Pinterest, it’s important for brands to try to put out inspirational content that people are searching for vs. aspirational content they won’t actually buy.

“You can have outsize influence because you’re there before he or she is searching deeper down the funnel,” Mallard said.

There’s also a perception that only women use Pinterest, which may be true, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since 85 percent of purchasing power is controlled by women, said Mallard. So even if the platform is dominantly used by women, it doesn’t mean male-oriented products or brands can’t advertise to them. Instead, it’s another opportunity to get the attention of the person who’s actually buying products in a household. The same logic applies towards a topic like the Super Bowl; the Big Game isn’t just about football but also about throwing a party around the event.

“If it’s about sports, we don’t have to give purely sports content,” Mallard said. “We give everything around that which can often be more important.”

All of this is key to Pinterest’s playbook as it grows its ad business while maintaining the bottom line.

“We like to think we’re a positive corner of the internet,” Mallard said. “I think we can stay there if we just hold true to those values and help talk to advertisers about why that’s important and why we feel like we’re on the right side of history and why context matters. We try to be really thoughtful.”

@itstheannmarie Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.