Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer danced on a tightrope this morning as she tried to explain the logic behind her company’s $1.1B agreement to buy social network site Tumblr. She told analysts in a conference call that the companies will work together, but separately. They appeal to different audiences, but she says they can complement each other. And since Yahoo is “all about brands” and advertising, it can gin up sales on Tumblr even though it has a history of being ad averse — and tolerant of porn. “We need to have good tools for targeting” ad messages, Mayer says. While it’s important for Tumblr to be “true to their voice,” the companies can “monetize [it] in a way that’s tasteful” while showing advertisers “the benefits of [Tumblr's young] demographics and the huge volume of users and traffic.” Tumblr’s 26-year-old founder and CEO David Karp — who Mayer called “one of the most inspiring entrepreneurs I’ve ever met” — underscored the cultural differences in a blog post this morning. Promising that “We’re not turning purple,” he ended his brief news announcement saying “fuck yeah.” Mayer vowed to “let Tumblr be Tumblr” operating “under the Tumblr brand and David’s vision” from its base in New York. Yahoo will help with the infrastructure, but won’t put its brand on Tumblr’s site. The connection “will be largely invisible to users.” She says it shouldn’t be hard to gin up ad sales at the social network, which just began to accept them a year ago. “Of the top 10 Hollywood studios, all use Tumblr to promote movies,” she says. “Tumblr views itself as a home for brands.” For example, Yahoo could “work with [Tumblr] bloggers who want ads.” She acknowledges that the businesses have different psychographics — Yahoo audiences are older than those at Tumblr where the average user is 25. “I would expect any ad units that we create [there] would be native and follow the form and function” of the site, Mayer says.
Per the agreement and our promise not to screw it up, Tumblr will be independently operated as a separate business. David Karp will remain CEO. The product, service and brand will continue to be defined and developed separately with the same Tumblr irreverence, wit, and commitment to empower creators.
UPDATE, 1:27 PM: Yahoo‘s spin machine will be hard at work today and tomorrow trying to persuade investors that CEO Marissa Mayer isn’t wildly overpaying for Tumblr. Although the social media service has become red hot — it averages about 75.8M posts a day — it generated just $12M in revenue last year and hopes for $100M this year, Forbes says. CEO David Karp began to sell ads for the site just a year ago. Yahoo has more than enough cash to make the deal. Still, Mayer could use Wall Street’s support for the biggest acquisition that she has made since taking charge in July. Her company’s shares have appreciated about 33% so far this year because Yahoo’s investments in Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba and Yahoo Japan have been doing so well. Sales of display ads, which have been key for Yahoo, continued to disappoint in Q1. Tumblr, whose average user is under 25, could help Yahoo make more connections with young Web users. But it also could complicate Yahoo’s sales message due to Tumblr’s comparatively lax views about hosting porn, BusinessWeek notes.
The talk about Tumblr could eclipse some additional news Yahoo plans to make tomorrow: It has scheduled a press conference to unveil updates to its Flickr photo-sharing service, Bloomberg reports.
UPDATE 10:55 AM: Yahoo board has greenlighted buying the social network in a billion-dollar-plus deal that could be announced as early as tomorrow