Here’s How Brands Are Capitalizing On The Tumblr #Aesthetic

Valerie Hoke
June 7, 2016

Let me start by saying this: I’m beginning to sense a pattern here.

Fifty percent of my posts here at the ChatterBlast Blog — including this one and this one — have been about Tumblr, a thriving but often-overlooked microblogging website that’s been a quiet contributor to the rise of social media.

And here I am, blogging about Tumblr once more.

Am I in a position where I can claim the title of Official ChatterBlast Tumblr Correspondent for myself? Hmm? I think I’m going to do that.

It’s not like I blame my coworkers for refraining from writing about Tumblr. The site can be quite an overwhelming and straight-up bizarre black hole of user-generated, fandom-fueled content. As the birthplace of many memes and the host of many shame sessions for “problematic” celebrities, Tumblr is also the cause of many headaches.

Despite this, some of the world’s biggest brands have found a home on the site, proving that Tumblr indeed can be an active player in the social messaging and advertising game.

For the sake of this blog, I decided to do a little experiment. I would log into Tumblr, scroll until I find the first ad or sponsored post and then proceed to center this blog on said post. So I did. Here’s the lucky winner:

OK, that’s great. But let’s look a little closer at a few things here.

Screenshot via Tumblr

  1. See how the post says “Follow” at the top? That means I don’t already follow this blog. Which means I’m seeing this because someone paid to make me see it. Which means this is the equivalent of a sponsored post on Facebook or a suggested account on Twitter.
  2. Note the blog’s URL (musicmovesyou) and the first tag (#toyotamusic). Nothing about that URL makes you think the account has anything to do with a massive car manufacturer, does it? But lo and behold, the tag subtly lets us know that this post is part of a Toyota campaign called #toyotamusic.
  3. Check out that little dollar sign up the top right corner. That, above all else, is the “I’m a sponsored post!” badge. (It also links to a page called “Tumblr Ads and You.” So personal!)

So What’s Going on Here?

Good question. Think about this GIF for a moment:

That’s basically what Toyota is doing here. The company is trying, via Tumblr, to say, “We’re not a regular brand — we’re a cool brand!” by tapping into what we’ll refer to as the Tumblr #aesthetic: carefree, wanderlust-y young people with a longing for authentic life experiences and some good music (check out the blog’s icon — nothin’ like a Toyota-branded vinyl record player!), maybe along with some pretty pastel colors and dreamy clouds and stuff like that.

Clicking on the #toyotamusic opens up a brand new page that hosts every post that’s tagged the same way. You’d be hard-pressed to find a post that actually mentions Toyota in it — soft sell, baby — but you will find numerous references to popular music festivals like Sasquatch, Stagecoach and Life is Beautiful.


Because Toyota wants you to associate the feelings you get at a music festival (carefree, authentic, dreamy) with the fact that you drove a Toyota car there. Or maybe you didn’t. But maybe you will next time. (The text reads, “Drive me to the music,” after all. Yup, “drive.” See what they did there?)

If you go to the actual musicmovesme Tumblr page, this is what you’ll find:

Screenshot via Tumblr

Right away, you’ll notice that nobody’s trying to hide the Toyota association here. But that hardly counts, because do you know how often a Tumblr user goes back to an original source’s blog after they reblog something? Almost never.

What We Can Learn About Tumblr from Toyota

Here’s how Toyota ensured that this sponsored post would be a success on Tumblr (and, as a result, allowed themselves to market to users without those users being any the wiser):

What This Says About Tumblr Advertising

If a brand is curious about advertising on Tumblr, it’s pretty easy to find out how to get in on the action. The site houses a business page that explains the various types of advertising options: sponsored posts, sponsored video posts, sponsored days (yes — a whole day with a link to a brand’s content at the top of the Tumblr dashboard) and a flurry of other ad tools. Even getting the ball rolling seems easy: In order to begin the process, brands are asked to provide some extremely basic information about the product they wish to advertise, and the rest goes from there.

For a Tumblr advertising campaign lathered in a brand’s logo, like Nike’s “sponsored day” content below, it’s easy to see the payoff: You get your name in front of an audience, you create brand awareness, etc.

Screenshot via Tumblr

But what about a brand like Toyota, which went out of its way to keep its name in the shadows?

It’s not likely that the average soft-grunge-loving, 16-year-old Tumblr user who thinks high school is boring and can’t wait to get out of her small town is going to purchase a Toyota upon seeing this sponsored post. In fact, it’s far more likely that she’ll simply be inclined to save up her money for some music festival tickets for next summer, not buy a car.

Will she have a greater appreciation for Toyota as a brand because of the pretty content the company created for her blog? That’s also unlikely, since there’s a good chance she’s our old friend Blogger B who found the post via someone else and is completely unaware of Toyota’s involvement.

So… What’s the point? I don’t know. Yes, I’m admitting defeat. I’m not sure what the brand’s measurable payoff is. But you know what I do know?

Whoever’s creating this content for Toyota knows Tumblr, and they know it well. That’s admirable, because deep knowledge of a platform (how it works, who uses it and what type of content does well) is crucial in order to achieve success — in terms of real, emotional connections, not just sales — through advertising.