Imgur Hopes To Help Advertisers Reach Young, Anti-Ad Audiences

Imgur Sponso PostWhile Imgur has 150 million monthly active users, many of them use ad-blocking software and access the site on mobile, where banners go for lower CPMs.

The image-sharing community is strongly tied to Reddit, hosting much of its image content. And like Reddit, Imgur’s audience is filled with tech-savvy male millennials suspicious of advertising.

Native, done right, offers a way to reach these ad-blocking males, so Imgur is shifting its bet from programmatic to native. The company has experimented with native ad placements for more than a year. The latest style of sponsored posts, launched with eBay in June, are how Imgur envisions advertisers connecting with Imgur’s hard-to-reach audience.

Imgur’s strategy around native is a little different than other publishers. While sponsored posts are clearly labeled, the site also hired members of its community to create posts using formats popular on Imgur – like GIFs – so that brands could blend in as seamlessly as individual users.

“If we scare users away, we don’t have much of a business,” said Steve Patrizi ,VP of marketing and sales. “It is critical to our success.”

The early returns are good. EBay’s campaign touched on the interests of the Imgur community – for instance, it advertised drones for Father’s Day. These ads performed well, according Patrizi, though he didn’t offer specifics. More importantly for Imgur, its community embraced the ads.

One upvoted comment said, “See, this is how you do promos. That thing looks awesome, and…wait. Does wanting one make me a dad?”

Another: “Alright, I think we can all agree that if we have to have ads on the FP [front page] now... this is the right way to do it. Well done, Ser eBay.”

A thumbs up from the Imgur community isn’t a given.

“They have a low tolerance for anything that’s intrusive or interruptive,” Patrizi said.

For a social media audience used to a certain routine, change can be difficult – and it can lead to rebellion. Digg’s redesign doomed it to irrelevance. More recently, Reddit’s decision to shut down some of its seedier areas – an attempt to clean up before courting advertisers – was met with tremendous backlash.

Despite its ties to Reddit, Imgur is distancing itself, claiming to focus on entertainment while Reddit focuses on discussion. But there’s tremendous overlap in its audiences – consequently they face similar challenges.

For instance, Imgur hasn’t traditionally been an advertising destination because many companies worry about the brand safety of the user-generated content that sustains the site.

These considerations form the crux of Imgur’s 2015 focus: Getting the content right for sponsored posts.

Most advertisers working with Imgur during its launch phase for sponsored posts, like eBay, Proctor & Gamble’s Old Spice, and Starz show “BluntTalk,” hadn’t worked with Imgur before.

Part of the issue is a lack of familiarity. Brands don’t have constant, organic presences on Imgur the way they might on Pinterest or Instagram. So it’s not as if they have a lot of followers who will automatically see branded content – which made it hard to justify content creation on Imgur.

But that distribution quirk also works in Imgur’s favor. Advertisers have to pay to play, since there’s no other way (like influencer marketing) to reach Imgurians.

Imgur charges advertisers on a CPM basis, with guaranteed distribution, though it will experiment with other models. Across all sponsored posts, interaction time averages 25 seconds. Click-through rates can approach 1%, Patrizi said, exceeding engagement with standard banner ads.

Building the ad tech to power distribution of sponsored posts didn’t require too much legwork, he said. It uses Adzerk, the same tech Reddit uses, as its ad server. Since the Imgur audience is a fairly homogenous one, it doesn’t plan to add targeting.

But it will eventually branch out to mobile web and mobile app, which accounts for half of Imgur’s traffic. The sponsored posts target only desktop viewers at this time.

Next year, Imgur plans to take the training wheels off its sponsored posts if the content continues to hit with its users, and expand using some of the $40 million it raised last April from Andreessen Horowitz “to start exploring this native advertising approach,” Patrizi said.

Imgur plans to hire more salespeople to pursue advertisers and open offices in major markets like New York City. This year, it’s limiting itself to a dozen advertisers and sticking to its home base in San Francisco. It employs just two people in sales, with other ad ops employees dedicated to Imgur’s programmatic display ad business.

Imgur hopes to capitalize on advertisers’ struggles with millennial males who are resistant to display advertising.

“This audience is one of the hardest to reach, and they show up sporadically,” Patrizi said. “Imgur gives them the target they can’t find anywhere else, and marketers can find them at scale.”

 

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