Tumblr dash on my desktop 6/5/13 

The challenge of the new Tumblr

Sponsored gifset reaction a lesson for brand content creators

When I woke up this morning for first-waking, a time between 4 and 5 a.m., I made a quick stop online to visit Tumblr.

Nothing unusual there, my Tumblr dashboard is one of the first (and last) places I visit on the Internet each day. Full of things I find interesting and entertaining my Tumblr dash never fails to please. However this morning one of the first things to appear in my dash was this gifset from Universal promoting a horror film called The Purge.


Made with obvious skill the nine animated gifs flash and change quickly. As a person who is developing his giffing skills I immediately thought how cool it was to see a brand using a complex animated gif to promote a product on Tumblr. I started brainstorming ways I could use the gifset’s style - the solid panel of a single image and the nine smaller gifs appearing and disappearing.

Later I got an email from Medium saying that I had been invited to contribute. Excellent! I thought to myself, I’ll write about that gifset I saw on Tumblr this morning and how creative it was to use the platform’s language to reach the people who use Tumblr.

A quick search of The Purge tag turned up a collection of posts that changed my mind immediately about Tumblr’s attitude towards the posting.

“you’ve soiled it”

Some users felt the ad was invading their personal online space. Others took the unwelcome content as a chance to badvocate for up to three brands at once.

“bad, stupid change”

Tumblr had shown its users paid content before the acquisition by Yahoo. It is called the Tumblr radar and shows up to the right of people’s dash and displays content chosen by Tumblr, or paid for by a marketer. It seems for some users paid posts like The Purge gifset are way over the line. So much so that one user is actively encouraging others to block any further messages about this brand’s product.

“an annoying advert”

As someone who is buying more and more landscape in the social world it is both daunting and reassuring to see what users say about content someone like me took time to make and share. On one hand I am glad that consumers question the ads they see. On the other hand it’s disheartening to think that everything I share is (at some level) seen as a blatant attempt to curry favor.

Most of the time I am afraid that users will react to my content like this one did to the Purge gifset:

“you are not welcome”

It’s also worth noting that the content was liked and reblogged hundreds and hundreds of times. Not every user saw it as an example of everything wrong with Tumblr now, some people thought it was pretty cool.

Buying space in social media feeds is the wave-of-the-now. What I learned today was that creativity is not a guarantee of acceptance, even in Tumblr where creativity is usually rewarded. If a fan of the movie had made this gifset there would never have been such an outcry. Creators for brands will not be perceived or received as fans of the brands. They are pitchmen. When it comes to brands and users interacting on the vibrant and growing platform called Tumblr brand content creators need to keep experimenting to find ways to meet (and market) in the middle.