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Tumblr's Porn Can Stay, Suggests Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer

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Tumblr pornographers, take heart: Yahoo comes in peace.

During an investor call Monday morning announcing Yahoo's $1.1 billion acquisition of media network Tumblr, Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer emphasized that Yahoo wants to "let Tumblr be Tumblr," which she suggested would include allowing its numerous X-rated accounts to continue pumping out pornography undisturbed.

Asked by an investor how Yahoo would balance user and advertiser interests with regard to Tumblr content that is "not as brand safe as the rest of Yahoo" -- content that presumably includes posts by sexually explicit Tumblrs such as "Red Hot Porn," "Porn and Weed" and "Secretary Sex" -- Mayer noted that the diversity of Tumblr's content was "exciting" because it allowed Tumblr, and by extension Yahoo, to reach a far wider audience. She explained that carefully targeting ad placement should allay the concerns of marketers who might be skittish about placing their brand alongside explicit content.

"I think the richness and breadth of content available on Tumblr -- even though it may not be as brand safe as what's on our site -- is what's really exciting and allows us to reach even more users," said Mayer, who did not mention pornography as such, but referred obliquely to content that was not "brand safe." "One of the ways to start measuring our growth story here is around traffic and users, and this obviously produces a lot of that. In terms of how to address advertisers' concerns around brand safety, we need to have good tools for targeting."

Conscious of the threat of a mass exodus by Tumblr devotees wary of a corporate overlord, Mayer has repeatedly stressed that Yahoo will allow Tumblr to operate independently, and promised in a blog post about the acquisition that the tech giant would "not screw it up."

Tumblr chief executive David Karp, who was not present on the investor call Monday, wrote in his own blog, "We're not turning purple." Yahoo will keep Tumblr's team intact, noted Mayer, to whom Karp will report directly.

"In terms of the integration between the two sites, we plan to operate and brand and grow Tumblr separately from Yahoo," Mayer said during her call with investors. "We will not have Yahoo branding on the Tumblr site. We want to let Tumblr be Tumblr, and let Yahoo be Yahoo."

Tumblr's guidelines are upfront about the site's tolerance for explicit material, and merely ask users who share "sexual or adult-oriented content" to tag it "NSFW" ("Not Suitable for Work") so people can filter it out of their feed if they so desire. Tumblr also asks content creators not to upload sexually explicit videos using its video-sharing tool ("We're not in the business of profiting from adult-oriented videos and hosting this stuff is f***ing expensive."), but helpfully suggests they could use a service like xHamster.

Peter Shankman, a marketing expert and author of "Nice Companies Finish First," argues that Tumblr's extensive collection of pornography will do little to dissuade advertisers from buying real estate on the site, so long as the media network can offer access to the users and demographics brands seek to reach.

"Advertisers go where the audiences that matter to them are. They always have and they always will," said Shankman. "Yahoo will have the ability to create tools that help prevent some of that [explicit material] from being seen by people who shouldn't see it, and that will benefit advertisers. In the long run, I don't see advertisers running away from this any more than Twitter, or Vine, or Instagram. There's porn. It exists. It's 2013 and it's available anywhere."

But whether Tumblrers like it or not, more advertising will be coming to the blogging service, and Mayer said that Yahoo might feature Tumblr content on its main site. She also discussed the possibility of working with Tumblr bloggers to post ads on their sites, with their permission.

Mayer declined to go into detail about Tumblr's plans for advertising targeted to users' interests -- be it fashion, art or perhaps even pornography -- but noted that the "psychographic profiles on Tumblr are different from what we have on Yahoo, which enriches the user base and makes it that much more interesting to advertisers."

She ended the call by quoting a line from David Fincher's film "The Social Network," which she said summarized Tumblr's advertising evolution and readiness to feature more ads.

"It's like the line from 'The Social Network' movie: 'Why would you monetize it? You don't even know what 'it' is yet,'" said Mayer. "Tumblr is now at the point ... [where] they know what 'it' is, and it makes sense to monetize it in a way that is tasteful and seamless."

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