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The popular but unprofitable visual search company needs to crack more big-budget marketing accounts to make its financial picture more attractive. This year Pinterest began offering the ability to target ads to subsets of users based on their travel interests. That will help.

Carnival, Visit Florida, and Visit Wales are some of the travel brands that have advertised on Pinterest. But the digital scrapbooking service has barely tapped the budgets of the largest travel brands.

Pinterest, which became a public company in April, is growing in popularity. About 300 million users worldwide logged on at least monthly between April and June. That represented a jump in users of 30 percent, year-over-year, the company said.

Of those, 20.9 million users in the U.S. were “actively engaging” with travel content, the company said.

Recently some notable names in travel have been testing the waters. Exhibit A: Carnival is currently buying ads targeted to appear when Pinterest users searched on keywords that rookie cruise-goers are most likely to use.

The move gave Carnival a chance to buy ads based on images, not text, and reach travelers who had previously not considered a cruise.

Pinterest is trying to become more appealing to marketers. This year, it began offering the ability to target ads to subsets of users based on travel preferences for adventure, food, spa, culture, or groups. That ability to target so-called travel personas might help it entice marketers. But the company wasn’t yet able to reveal the names of travel brands testing the offering.

Is Pinterest Ad Friendly?

The visual cataloging service argues that how people use it for travel is often distinct from how they research travel online.

“There aren’t that many travel planning tools elsewhere,” said Vikram Bhaskaran, head of vertical strategy. “We can fill that gap. People may share ideas over email or share print magazine articles. We set ourselves apart by making it easy to save ideas to boards and collaborate on the boards with others.”

Travel messages on Pinterest typically find customers in a receptive state of mind, Bhaskaran said. For instance, if you type in any location on Pinterest, a lot of the pins a consumer sees are activity and lodging recommendations. The reason? Most of the content on Pinterest comes from brands or is branded in nature. So that makes it a friendly place for advertisers.

But many marketers still favor Facebook and Instagram . That’s because Facebook and its sister brand offer more advertising tools. They also have richer data, thanks to having a broader pool of customers.

In March, Instagram began letting some users buy fashion items directly through its mobile app. That said, neither brand has announced plans to enable travel booking within their apps.

New Frontiers for the Visual Search Company

“What we don’t see yet — and what frankly Pinterest isn’t as good at as some other properties — is people doing that detailed bottom of the funnel travel planning like booking a very specific hotel or booking their flights,” said Benjamin Silbermann, chairman, co-founder, president, and CEO, during an August call with investment analysts.

Ben Silbermann Co-founder and CEO (Download) Evan Sharp, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer

From right to left: CEO Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp, chief creative officer, at the Pinterest headquarters in San Francisco. Source: Pinterest

“So a good opportunity for us, although not a focus right now, is how do we bring people down funnel,” Silbermann said.

The company has taken early steps in this direction. Pinterest added the option for a marketers to pay for ad-related referrals to a brand’s site that end in transactions.

The company doesn’t publicly reveal the cost of its ads. But it made an average of $2.80 in revenue per U.S. user during the three months ended June 30. Marketers can bid in Pinterest auctions based on conversions, traffic, or impressions.

That average makes it potentially a cheaper ad channel than others like Google and Facebook for some types of audiences. But Pinterest is still lagging in some ways. For example, it debuted its persona-based advertising more than five years after it first offered a travel-specific product.

What Are the Demographics?

The company claimed it reaches three out of four U.S. millennial women. Its service often appeals to people looking for ideas to plan for a wedding, a new house, or a new baby. This audience can fill holes in the media plans of some marketers.

Visit Florida, for instance, recently used Pinterest to reach millennials by using branded videos. The brand paid for when a user clicked through to its website or when a user viewed its video ads on Pinterest.

But millennial women aren’t the full story, the company said.

“In the future, we are continuing to expand into new markets, adding new types of users and new use cases,” Bhaskaran said.

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Tags: digital advertising, Digital Marketing, pinterest, travel marketing, visual content marketing, visual marketing

Photo credit: Pinterest claims it's a cost-effective way to advertise to people who still need inspiration about where to travel. Shown here is the Carnival Cruise Line Pinterest page. The company has recently run an advertising campaign on the visual cataloging service. Sean O'Neill / Skift

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