Tumblr Draws a Distinction Between Its Ads and Those of Google and Facebook

Karp: We do branding. The rest of the Web doesn't.

If you like direct response ads and blue links and tired display ads, don’t talk to Tumblr.

But if you’re a creative who’s dying to get clients off their click addiction and do some truly great brand advertising, give Tumblr a call.

(And unfortunately, if you’re a Web publisher looking for some monetization help from a partner who’s not looking to just promise you yet another flavor of a banner ad, you’re going to have to wait).

Indeed, Tumblr believes it can be the dominant outlet for all those brand dollars that are supposedly waiting on the sidelines. In fact, during a Social Media Week keynote in New York on Wednesday, CEO and founder David Karp seemed to be taking pains to draw a distinction between its small set of pretty ad offerings and those of Google, Facebook and the umpteen ad networks flooding the Web with banners.

What you find online these days is “the type of advertising that has really hinged on hypertargeting little blue links, actionable links that send you on to do something else,” said Karp. “That’s fine. They work very well…but on Tumblr we started to think about types of ads we really liked.”

Karp, speaking at Ogilvy & Mather’s headquarters, said that great advertising was so important in his life that it even impacted his personality development. Growing up in New York, where a car can be a liability, Karp said he ached to buy a BMW when he turned 18. (He settled for an Acura.)

It’s an interesting religious conversion for Karp, who in Tumblr’s earliest days famously said, "We’re pretty opposed to advertising."

Turns out he’s just not a fan of branding potential for most Web ads, which are “not great at creating intent.”

For the past year of so, Tumblr has offered just two ad products: Radar, by which brands can pay to promote Tumblr post to a certain percentage of users, and Spotlight, which allows brands to promote their own Tumblrs in specific content categories.

Buyers have taken quickly to these ads, which are designed to force brands to use Tumblr like other content producers use Tumblr, rather than shoving traditional ads onto the blogging platform.

In fact, the biggest mistake you can make on Tumblr? Porting over banners. Karp said that some early advertisers have tried this tactic and failed hard. In the end, “We don't need to be the ones that tell them that they won’t perform next to our great content,” said Karp.

“This really hasn’t been a huge issue," Karp added. "This industry is so bored of display, bored of blue links, so excited to create ads that win awards, that really tell stories, that make customers, that people remember, that get people excited, that you can put in your portfolio. There aren’t a lot of AdWords ads or display ads that you can put in a portfolio.”

There are likely hundreds of Web publishers who wholeheartedly agree. Which begs the question, couldn’t Tumblr bring its beautiful, brand-oriented ad tactics to the rest of the Web? Could a Tumblr ad network be in the works?

“Tumblr is a unique sort of recipe that really supports that well,” Karp told Adweek. “It’s why we’re hinging our business on it. [But a network] is certainly not high on our list right now. Perhaps. But it’s definitely a next couple of years kind of thing.”