Pinterest extends its visual search technology to ads

Automated recommendations will help pinners discover more of what they find appealing.

Note to marketers: Pinterest hears your frustration, and is working to live up to its potential.

The platform, which has long intrigued advertisers with its brand-friendly raison-d'etre, introduced three visual discovery tools in February designed to help users find more of what they like: Lens, Shop the Look and Instant Ideas. Now, the platform is leveraging the same tech to make Promoted Pins more effective.

Pinterest president Tim Kendall announced the new offering at TechCrunch Disrupt on Tuesday. "Until now we’ve only applied the visual discovery tech to the organic consumer-facing products," Kendall said. "But the news is we’re now applying it to ads."

Similar to how a music service would recommend a song based on notes, tempos and genres of past selections, the visual search technology identifies characteristics such as the colors, shapes and textures within pinned images to see what users are looking for. Pinterest then places related promoted content in the same feed.

"We’re able to understand the combined affect people find appealing," said Kendall, "even when it can’t be communicated in words."

For instance, when a potential customer searches for a type of table on Pinterest, the new technology recognizes the images that come up and analyzes the identifiable qualities of the table—whether it’s meant for a dining room versus a kitchen, rectangular or oval, modern or traditional, etc. Then, it will serve that customer promoted pins that match the look and feel of that table.

These promoted pins will automatically appear in "Instant Ideas" and "Related Pins," under the "More Like This" section under each pin. The platform said in a blog post that every month, pinners do over two billion keywords searches and over 250 million visual searches.

While the tech is advanced, the idea is straightforward—show consumers more relevant ads that complement what they are already searching for, hopefully resulting in happier users and advertisers. Pinterest, with its bevy of products, is meant to be a place where users find and yearn for items they didn’t know they wanted.   

"Think about Pinterest," said Kendall, "we have a depth and breadth of visual signals on products and services. We’ve got all that information, we have all these Pins, and the way that people navigate those pins is very visual. We leveraged the way people actually use Pinterest."

For a platform that has stuck to traditional methods for targeting individuals, like keywords and tagging, the new visual technology distinguishes the platform. "We’re getting to that point now where we’ve hit parity in a lot of parameters," said Kendall. "So we’re starting to be able to segue into differentiation and build things that other people can’t. Or they could build it, but because of the nature of the products, this would make less sense."

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