Pinterest is doubling down on being the most inclusive social platform out there, from the product they make to the workplace culture they foster. Under CMO Andréa Mallard’s leadership, the organization is implementing new policies such as the Creator Code, which ensures people can create and comment while mitigating any negativity. They’re also playing in the body positivity space with their pledge to ban weight loss product advertisements from the platform completely.
I spoke to Mallard along with her co-captains of the Pinterest marketing team, Global Head of Consumer & Brand Marketing Celestine Maddy and Europe’s Director of Marketing, Louise Richardson, about how their team is working to drive change in an industry known for being toxic. In fact, the trio just spearheaded the launch of the platform’s biggest brand campaign, You Might Just Surprise Yourself.
Amy Shoenthal: Pinterest has been called “the kindest corner of the internet.” Why is that?
Andréa Mallard: We saw some fairly explosive growth during Covid. Lots of people were stuck inside. What’s interesting about Pinterest was that people were desperate for inspiration but didn’t have a lot of avenues where they could feel inspired. So people who traditionally used Pinterest for makeup and fashion would now use the platform to figure out how to teach fifth grade math, how to stay mentally sane, or how to plan for when they could host a backyard party again.
People are starting to be more thoughtful about how to design their life with a lot more intention. That’s always been part of Pinterest’s mission, so we want to share that and be loud and proud about it.
Celestine Maddy: Being at home really allowed me to think about the condition of my life and evaluate what I liked about it and what I didn’t. It was advantageous that I joined Pinterest when I did. I changed my hair. I had pink lowlights for a while because that’s what the algorithm suggested to me, and I loved it. One of the great things about Pinterest is that people come to the platform with an intention, from having an idea to shopping to creating something, and Pinterest allows them to explore that intention.
Shoenthal: Does everyone at the company have personal passions and interests that feed into the brand campaigns that you’re putting into the world?
Louise Richardson: I have a slight confession. I was probably one of the first people in the UK to sign up for the platform. I have used it for help in raising my kids, decorating my house and more, but I had never considered it as an advertising platform. The ads were so aligned with my experience as a user.
So when I had the opportunity to come to Pinterest, I felt like wow, this place has been so additive to my life, and I want to get in on that and build the next phase of this company. The reason I mention that is because I do think that’s what unites employees. There’s a genuine belief that we’re trying to make people’s lives better. We’re all aligned around that wider mission. It sounds cliche but it’s actually really authentic.
Shoenthal: Pinterest announced that the platform will now ban all ads with language or imagery about weight loss. Can you talk about what led to that decision?
Maddy: Pinterest has always been a place that behaves differently than a lot of other platforms. Like you said we’ve been called the kindest place on the internet, but now we’re being called the most inclusive place. We are focused on making sure you as a user are comfortable on this platform, so we want to make sure you aren’t overwhelmed with negativity as seen elsewhere on social media.
I’m excited for some product features we have coming out soon that will double down on those things. We want to make it possible for you to create your life from here. But you can’t create an inspired life if you’re being bombarded by judgemental or negative cultural messages. We’re at a moment in time where we can keep things as they are or we can make changes in how we behave. We need to create something better as we move forward.
I think we are committed to being a very inclusive place, but that takes work and we’re working on it. There’s no easy solution to anything. It’s the intention that counts, then the action, and of course the end result. Intention without substantive action isn’t going to get it done. Pinterest is taking action on the platform. It’s not always easy to do that but it’s the right thing to do and I’m proud that we do it.
Mallard: We also don’t go it alone. When you’re trying to make decisions like this you need to be informed. We partner with outside experts to make sure we’re grounding everything in data. We actually banned vaccine misinformation well before Covid. The first phone call we made when Covid hit was to the W.H.O. We wanted to make sure there was rigorous science and thoughtful intent behind whatever we did. I really appreciate the degree to which Pinterest knows its own limitations. For the weight loss ban, we partnered with national weight loss NGOs and eating disorder organizations like NEDA (the National Eating Disorder Association) to make sure we were approaching this with a scientifically backed perspective.
Shoenthal: Tell me about your latest brand campaign. Why is Pinterest doing such a big advertising push now?
Mallard: What’s so amazing about Pinterest is that it’s this beautiful brand and beautiful product but has been so humble and so quiet. We felt we had finally earned the right to tell our own story. We wanted to show the things that make time on Pinterest feel like time well spent. We live in a world where you can get very stuck in a digital echo chamber. If we can get people out of that, if we can get them back into this exploration mode, they truly just might surprise themselves. Users always say they discover things about themselves while on Pinterest. The genesis of this campaign was to tap into that feeling. There is joy in trying something new, whether it’s a spectacular failure or a huge success, and we want people to celebrate that. And luckily I have two amazing women to lead that work, with Celestine in the US and Louise in the UK to help make it into a global rallying cry.
Richardson: We want to genuinely enable people to make their lives dramatically better. We don’t want people mindlessly scrolling through Pinterest, we want to inspire action. We’re not a generic aspirational feed. We want people to get out there and do it. Go on, try it, what’s the worst that can happen?
Shoenthal: How are consumers using Pinterest now? How did that change over the course of the pandemic?
Mallard: People have always come to Pinterest to try new things but the pandemic really accelerated that. We had all time engagement highs throughout 2020. Half a billion people are coming to Pinterest every month to go from inspiration to action.
We saw searches for mindfulness, meditation, organization and healthy baking, but now as people are prepping for post-pandemic life, they’re now searching for outfits and party planning and weddings. But also, weddings still happened during Covid, and people had to get very creative and thoughtful about how to have a wedding when they couldn’t have the 300 people they thought they would have.
I’m curious to see what from the pandemic experience will linger on. Now we’re seeing trends towards more intimate, small weddings. Even though they don’t have to, they’re seeing the value in that. Sleep health and the bedroom as a sanctuary became huge conversations. It’s not just about pretty pillows. Sleep is a critical component of wellbeing so people are like, let me research this as I’ve researched home yoga and plant based diets. The pandemic just accelerated trends that were already happening. People went inward and now they want things to move onward. So now we’re seeing people taking the best of the pandemic and deliberately trying to create something new.
Shoenthal: What surprised each of you during this time?
Richardson: I surprised myself in a really dramatic way when I divorced my husband of 18 years, moved to a new city and bought a house by myself and renovated the whole thing. I promise you this is not a Kool-Aid drinking thing but a lot of that was due to Pinterest. The resolution a lot of people have made to carry on the idea of not going back to normal because normal wasn’t always best — that shows the huge shifts that even people of privilege like ourselves have gone through. That’s a global thing and it’s not going away. We’re well positioned to help people on that journey.
Mallard: Speaking of Lou’s journey, we were supposed to have a check-in the other day and I made her give me a tour of her house. What’s great about her house is that it’s just so her. It kind of feels like Pinterest exploded in her house in such a wonderful way.
What surprised me while I was at home with my three kids was the realization that they didn’t need me hovering over them. I had to stop worrying about them as I was prone to do. Sure, they were not going to learn as much as they would have otherwise, but they were going to be alright. I didn’t have a situation where I could support all of them in their schooling throughout the day, and I had to make peace with that. Trust me, there were moments of anguish with everyone going crazy but also moments of quiet beauty where we got to do something together we wouldn’t have done otherwise.
One thing I got my family into because of Pinterest was backyard beekeeping. All three of the kids helped with this. We caught a huge swarm the other day. Now I have three kids who aren’t afraid to get near a large swarm of bees, who now have a deep respect for nature. We pack up jars of honey they now give to their friends. And yes, we make the labels ourselves.
Maddy: For me, the pandemic was synonymous with civil unrest and George Floyd. It felt very emotional and very charged. What surprised me was just how radical I could be. I realized how far I was willing to go for social justice. I’m not an extrovert so getting out in the street and screaming at the top of my lungs with my kid was a huge surprise. I’m usually in my eccentric creative bubble doing my own thing. But I got very involved in politics in a way I never had before. I fundraised for candidates. Like Lou, I also signed divorce papers, letting go of ideas I had about how culture is supposed to be, how I’m supposed to be. I’m grateful for it. I feel much lighter. I rethought everything. There were systems I thought were working for me that I now realize were not.
I have a secret Pinterest board with a few other Black executives. It started as a collection of other Black women weighing in on what I should do with my hair, and now we’re posting photos of the civil rights movement in the 60’s and 70’s, but still talking about how to braid our daughters’ hair in cornrows. It’s turned into a private inspiration group board where Blackness is being celebrated.
Mallard: Can you see why I love working with these women? I mean talk about intellectual and emotional awareness and thoughtfulness.