Digital Conference

Tumblr Announces First Foray Into Paid Advertising

Starting May 2, Tumblr Will Sell Its 'Radar' Post as an Ad Unit

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Five-year-old microblogging platform Tumblr announced its first foray into paid advertising at Ad Age 's Digital Conference this afternoon.

Founder and CEO David Karp said Tumblr will start offering the "Radar" post that appears on a Tumblr user's dashboard as an ad unit on May 2. Radar is currently an officially curated selection of images used to highlight notable or popular posts (usually images) from across the network.

David Karp, CEO of Tumblr, delivers the closing keynote at the Ad Age Digital conference Wednesday afternoon in New York.
David Karp, CEO of Tumblr, delivers the closing keynote at the Ad Age Digital conference Wednesday afternoon in New York. Credit: Patrick Butler

Mr. Karp said that Tumblr has about 15 partnerships in which it has used Radar to promote content from brands, including The Cartoon Network, but that packaging it as an ad is an opportunity to make a campaign "repeatable."

He began his announcement by quoting a 2010 interview he did with The Los Angeles Times, in which he said: "We're pretty opposed to advertising. It really turns our stomachs." He said he had probably been an "idiot" to say so but that it was still a "fair assessment of digital advertising."

While the Radar ad units represent the first time marketers will be able to pay Tumblr to advertise on the platform, Mr. Karp touted the creative ingenuity behind Tumblr accounts Capitol Couture (an account to promote "The Hunger Games" that features top looks from the fictional dictatorship); IBM's A Smarter Planet; and his personal favorite, Warby Barker, an account from Warby Parker, the online eyewear retailer, featuring images of dogs in shades.

After praising the creative advertising already on Tumblr, Mr. Karp took some not-so-subtle shots at the giants of the space, calling Google and Facebook "devoid of creativity" in designing boxy, often text-heavy ad units. He also noted that there's "no 140 characters, [and] no little box" in Tumblr Radar.

Radar placement gets 120 million impressions per day from users logging into their dashboard across devices, Mr. Karp said. "You've already seen our ad unit," he added.

Before he left the stage, his email address flashed on the projector screen. "For anyone interested in doing anything creative with us," he said.

Mr. Karp declined to say how much the Radar ads will cost and who Tumblr's launch partners are for the unit, but fashion and media brands have been the earliest and most fervent adopters of the platform.

Tumblr recently passed the 50-million-blog mark and has roughly $125 million in funding (including an $85 million round last September). It makes money by taking a cut from the sales of custom blog themes created by designers and sold on the platform. This winter it started enabling users to highlight posts for their followers within their dashboards for $1.

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