The story of Tumblr in the arms of Yahoo! has been one of compromise, of spirit in decline. David Karp wanted his blogchild to be a bastion of free expression and porn. But in the months since he sold out, advertisers are steadily colonizing Tumblr. Are you excited for Bisquick GIFs?
Karp once famously told the L.A. Times he was "pretty opposed to advertising" on Tumblr, and that it "turned [his] stomach." Now, with a mandate to finally start making money and justify its colossal price tag to Yahoo, there are some changes. Marissa Mayer, an adult who understands one needs to make money if one is going to run a business, is in charge:
Marketr is a new Tumblr section which promises "We’re here to help brands establish a Tumblr identity they can be proud of, build a passionate audience, and leverage the best native ads since Days Of Our Lives."
There's the new "Tumblr A-List," a Karp-approved list of digital marketing agencies waiting to take on new clients and help them subtly insert their trademarks into the rest of the pixel detritus potluck. Their mission is simple: make ads that don't really look like ads so that Tumblr's millions of prime demographic users will help them advertise, gratis.
Some companies, like Gucci, have been doing this for some time now—they've got it down to a science. After all, half the action on Tumblr is aspirational, the same sort of vicarious viewing that fuels Pinterest.
Expensive item. I want that item. I can't afford that item. Oh well, a JPEG will do. Share it around.
High fashion brands on Tumblr aren't new, and already bounce across feeds in great numbers.
But then there's Lexus, which only started posting subtly branded content on its Tumblr site, "THE SIGNAL," last month—Post Yahoo!. Most of the graphics you'll find there don't have any apparent connection to Lexus. They're going for the same artistic Oooh, I like that! shareability as Gucci or BuzzFeed.
Along with Hamburger Helper, yet another post-Yahoo! entrant. The Whole Foods Tumblr is called "Dark Rye" for some reason, and like Lexus, gives few clues that it has anything to do with the corporate entity pulling the strings. Ditto Fiji Water. It's just vaguely visually appealing stuff, fodder for a dorm room bulletin board:
Scrolling through the "Brands" list shows an easy pattern: companies that can't coast on their own inherent eyeball appeal (the Guccis, the J.Crews) and demonstrate any real reason for being on Tumblr have been pitched—and sold—on Tumblr's viability as a platform for any brand. Just like your television can show you an ad for antacid tablets just as easily as iPads, Tumblr wants to be a place that will cater to any and all marketing teams, using you and your friends as viral hosts. As Karp put it himself, beachside at Cannes, Tumblr is making a public case that this schlock will make the whole network "better." It's hard to imagine he ever wanted any of this.