Who gets to play on Pinterest?

With Pinterest coming to Canada, buyers talk: is the platform a niche or can it reach advertisers beyond fashion and beauty?

Pinterest might never have the strength of Facebook – but many buyers argue that’s not the point.

The social platform officially opened its doors in Canada last week, hiring former Facebook Canada sales team lead Erin Elofson as country manager.

While the site may never have the advertising power of Facebook or YouTube, metrics – and buyers – indicate that Pinterest could become brands’ secret social weapon.

ComScore numbers provided by the company indicate than an average of 12 million Canadians access Pinterest per month, with an average of 4.5 million pins saved per day. An August MTM report shows that 25% of Anglophone Canadians have used the platform in the past month, which has remained unchanged for several years.

Stateside, eMarketer predicts that revenue for Pinterest will skyrocket. In 2017, the platform brought in $384.7 million in U.S. ad revenue. By 2020, eMarketer predicts that number will climb to more than $1 billion.

Breanne Morrison, director of paid social at Starcom, said interest in the platform from Canadian brands is palpable.

“They have always been in the top three or four in terms of social platforms for us,” she said, adding that in Starcom’s measurements, time spent on Pinterest is comparable to Instagram. “I’ve seen quite a lot of uptick from consumers. It used to be just women, 40 and older, but there’s been a big uptick in millennial usage.”

That uptick, she said, hasn’t been driven by major interface upgrades or added functions, but refining and enhancing its search process. She said search is one of the best parts of the platform, not only for users but also for advertisers.

“They’ve become a great visual discovery platform,” she said. “The amount of content and the way it’s laid out allows you to really go down a rabbit hole. The interesting thing is, so much of it is branded content, but when it’s people looking for information – whether it’s outfit ideas, beauty ideas, recipes – they’re fine if it’s branded content.”

Morrison says Starcom has been activating directly on Pinterest for some time, as it was one of the first Canadian agencies to have full access to its ads manager. However, now that the Canadian outpost is live, she says it gives them a chance to get more Canada-specific data and studies out of the platform.

Sarah Thompson, chief strategy officer at Mindshare, says it’s difficult to compare Pinterest to Facebook or Twitter because their functionalities are so different; Pinterest barely registers as a social media network.

“What we do in Pinterest is different in terms of creating your own catalogue, having all your aspirations in one place,” she said. “I’m not trying to find out what’s going on in my cousin’s life. It fits closer to e-commerce environments.”

While Thompson said the platform represents an opportunity for brands, she said they’ll have their work to do, mainly in driving users to the platform itself.

“Brands will need to drive a lot of adoption,” she said. “We’ve been trained to know that brands are on Facebook or Twitter. Now, the challenge is to drive them to Pinterest, then you have to spend the time and energy to get them to come back. Then you can look at paid.”

And, she said, not every brand needs to be on Pinterest. “Marketers spend a lot of time building a profile in a place where they don’t need to be present. There are opportunities [depending] on the campaign – for example, I’ve seen brands in the financial services category build pin boards based on aspirations and helping manage money better. But there are a lot of brands that have gone into Pinterest without a specific metric attached to measure their ROI. As a result, you see a lot of abandoned pin boards out there.”

Performics Canada head Sean McConnell agreed that the brand has to be a natural fit. “If you try and force-fit a square into a round hole, it won’t work,” he said, adding that the capabilities of the platform’s algorithms can’t be underestimated. “It’s a very intuitive process when it comes to things like shoppable Pins,” said McConnell. “I think Pinterest will start to break into the e-commerce world. Other platforms have tried to force it in and it doesn’t feel as natural.”

Overall, he sees Pinterest as being in a “disruptor” position now that it has a Canadian office and can work more closely with brands and agencies. “Obviously they’re never going to take down the ‘big two’ – Facebook and Google – but for fashion brands, beauty brands, even CPG, it’s a perfect initial fit.”

However, McConnell also said the network’s self-serve platform “needs to mature a bit.” He said more measurement and reporting capabilities are behind giants like Facebook and Google.

McConnell added – and Morrison echoed the sentiment – that the ad product suite can be limited, and expanding what is available to advertisers might help brands be a bit more experimental on the platform. Nevertheless, McConnell said that the consistency of use and the time spent from Pinterest’s user base, while not close to Facebook, will continue to drive strong results for the platform.