August 25, 2022
August 10, 2022

How brands are reclaiming Tumblr

Sabrina Goodwin

Tumblr was my go-to social platform in the 2011-2013 era. My friends and I would relish the content the platform offered. I even had a shared account with a friend, and whenever we were together, we would have the objective to create "artsy" content and post it on the platform. It was one of my first experiences with the creator economy.

My experience on Tumblr as an older member of Gen Z was not unique to my generation. Not only was posting on the platform a huge serotonin hit, but the content was so diverse and relatable. Ranging from funny memes and GIFs to inspirational quotes for a teenage girl trying to find her place in the world, Tumblr's content had a lot to offer and spoke to a lot of older Gen Zers and Millennials.

And then, it suddenly died. Just as quickly as it gained traction, Tumblr became obsolete. People became more interested in sharing their photos on Instagram and their GIFs on Twitter instead. However, with the onslaught of the pandemic, Tumblr has been steadily climbing the ranks again as a well-loved social platform. But the question many brands should be asking right now is would it be worthwhile to invest in Tumblr?

Tumblr's Downfall

David Karp founded Tumblr in 2007. For reference, Facebook launched in 2004, along with Twitter not far behind in 2006. Instagram didn't launch until 2010.

The versatility of Tumblr's content made it appealing: Users on the platform could create content ranging from GIFs and images to long-form blog posts.

"You could have more text than on Twitter, but it was a cooler community than Facebook," Tumblr user and painter Sharon Butler explain for The New Yorker

However, in 2013, Tumblr started its downfall when ownership tradeoffs began. Yahoo acquired Tumblr for over $1 billion. In 2016, Verizon acquired Yahoo, and as a result, bundled both Yahoo and Tumblr under Oath, a parent company. Three years later, Automatic, the company that owns WordPress, bought Tumblr for only $3 million, significantly less than the price Yahoo paid six years prior (The New Yorker).

In between all of these ownership tradeoffs, Tumblr wasn't able to grow its advertising revenue, and there was a blanket ban on adult content, a feature that drew many users to the platform. This ban resulted in a 30% decrease in traffic (The New Yorker).

Other platforms have maintained popularity over the years. Just look at Instagram. It continues to update its features to stay relevant. However, Tumblr has been about preservation more than anything else. Even its feed hasn't adopted an algorithm.

The Return of Tumblr

Many people credit Tumblr's return being possible because of the pandemic. Since Tumblr is all about preservation, many people experienced a period of reflection in 2020 that is consistent with Tumblr's brand.

Krystine Batcho, a psychology professor, wrote in a Vox article that, "What people are craving is the period when they had fewer worries, more innocent fun and greater emotional support during difficult times" (Media Update). What better place to feel nostalgic about better days than the comforting, navy blue walls of Tumblr’s feed?

In addition to the yearning desire to reflect on simpler times, Vogue declared that the "2014 Tumblr Girl Is Back." In large part, we have TikTok to thank for that. There has been an insurgence of the alternative "indie" aesthetic, also known as grunge culture, which has strong ties to the Tumblr world pre-Yahoo purchase.

We're seeing younger Gen Zers bring Tumblr back today. According to Tumblr's advertising website, around half (48%) of its users are from Gen Z, and Gen Zers make up 61% of its new users. Tumblr’s website even says “Gen Z is kind of obsessed with us.”

With this coveted audience having such a significant presence on Tumblr, it's a platform that brands and advertisers have an opportunity to use to their advantage.

Brands Investing in Tumblr

But obviously Tumblr needs a way to produce revenue if it's planning on accomplishing its serious comeback. Several brands have discovered the value that capturing Gen Z on Tumblr has: Direct ad sales on Tumblr have risen 203% YOY as of Q4 of 2021 (Marketing Brew).

One brand in particular is making a significant splash on Tumblr: Manscaped. The brand has been coming in hot with its strategy on the platform, investing time and resources in both organic social and paid advertising. Manscaped's Director of Social Media, Tyler Wentworth, identified Gen Z as a "core segment" of its followers and customers.

Manscaped's Tumblr page (via mobile app)

Manscaped began its Tumblr profile in July 2020. The initial strategy included posting two to three times a week. It would focus on repurposed content from Twitter, or lighthearted meme-style content that would even make fun of their own advertising. This same content was generating higher engagement on Tumblr than on Instagram or Twitter. In just over two years, Manscaped has acquired over 10K followers on Tumblr.

"It's safe to say that's the quickest Manscaped has grown to 10,000 followers on any social media channel we've launched," Wentworth divulged (Marketing Brew).

Senior Manager of Paid Social, Jenny Broekemeier, explained to Marketing Brew that when testing paid ads on Tumblr, Manscaped saw results. Broekemeier said the company "has spent 50% fewer ad dollars on Tumblr than it did in 2020...and drove 524% more revenue."

Their secret? In addition to posting their own content, reblogging others', and heavily investing in ads, none of their competitors have much of a presence on Tumblr.

What's Next?

Tumblr was a social platform that was there for me and many other Gen Zers and Millennials growing up and served as a pivotal moment. I do believe there's something worth pursuing for brands that are interested in exploring the advertising possibilities on Tumblr.

A Tumblr ad from Automatic promoting its ad-free tier

Since Tumblr was known for its organic content that resonated, many users have yearned for an ad-free option since paid advertisements have been included in the feed over the past couple of years. Now, Tumblr is offering an ad-free experience for $4.99/month or $39.99/year. People who want the nostalgic, pre-2013 experience on Tumblr can have it at a small price (with the exception of mature content still being banned from the platform). And, this allows Tumblr to generate revenue.

Currently, "revenue is up fifty-five per cent since July of 2021. Yet the company sees only around eleven million posts a day; Twitter by comparison, is said to host five hundred million daily tweets." Jeff D'Onofrio, the CEO of Tumblr, said the main goal is to maintain "the positivity that we've worked so hard to build here. It can't be growth at all costs (The New Yorker).

So, the question remains: Should brands roll the dice on Tumblr? If they're considering taking advantage of Tumblr, the best advice would be to strategically plan the best method of execution before diving right in just because Tumblr is a trendy place to be. Investing in TikTok, other social platforms, or Social Display ads with Spaceback may be more realistic for your brand right now. But if it makes sense to target Gen Z for your brand, getting on Tumblr before your competitors may be the best option.

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