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Pinterest (PINS) Q3 2020 Earnings Call Transcript

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Pinterest (NYSE: PINS)
Q3 2020 Earnings Call
Oct 28, 2020, 4:30 p.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:


Jane Penner

Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us. Welcome to Pinterest's earnings conference call for the third quarter ended September 30, 2020. Joining me today on the call are Ben Silbermann, our president and CEO; and Todd Morgenfeld, our chief financial officer and head of business operations. Now, I'll cover the safe harbor.

Some of the statements that we make today regarding our performance, operations and outlook including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, may be considered forward-looking. and such statements involve a number of risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially. In addition, our results, trends and outlook for Q4 2020 are preliminary and may not be an indication of future performance. We are making these forward-looking statements based on information available to us as of today, and we disclaim any duty to update them later, unless required by law.

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For more information, please refer to the risk factors discussed in our most recent Forms 10-Q or 10-K filed with the SEC and available on the investor relations section of our website. During this call, we will present both GAAP and non-GAAP financial measures. A reconciliation of non-GAAP to GAAP measures is included in today's earnings press release and letter to shareholders which are distributed and available to the public through our investor relations website located at investor.pinterestinc.com. And now, I'll turn the call over to Ben.

Ben Silbermann -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks Jane. Hi, everyone. We appreciate you joining today. By now, many of you have seen our shareholder letter, so I'm just going to offer brief comments about the quarter.

Todd is going to follow up with some additional details, and then we'll open it up to questions as soon as we can. I'll start by saying that we're happy with our performance this quarter. Q3 started with a lot of unknowns because of COVID-19, but we were able to focus on what we could control, and that's executing our strategic priorities that we set at the beginning of the year, bringing on the most inspirational content, making Pinterest more engaging and useful, serving and diversifying our advertiser base, and finally, making Pinterest more shoppable. All this led to strong results.

Monthly active users grew 37% year-over-year to $442 million, and revenue grew over 58% year-on-year. We're seeing a number of our investments paying off by growing our international presence in places like Western Europe and our progress with automation to make it easier for small and medium-sized advertisers, and finally, making Pinterest more shoppable. We also launched a number of new products like tools to help creators reach new audiences and bring even more inspirational content onto Pinterest, and more recently, a new suite of merchant tools to help retailers reach more customers this holiday season and beyond. Overall, we accomplished a lot.

Now obviously, there are still a lot of unknowns in the future because of COVID-19, but I'm confident about our team's ability to innovate in the midst of all this change. And I want to give a quick thank you to the entire Pinterest team for their hard work in an unpredictable year. I'm proud of the resilience the team demonstrated and excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. With that, I'll turn it over to Todd, who will give more color about our business performance.

Todd?

Todd Morgenfeld -- Chief Financial Officer and Head of Business Operations

Thanks Ben. I want to give some brief color on the trends that we saw during the third quarter as well as to provide an informal outlook for both revenue and costs going into Q4. I'll begin with a quick summary of the headlines and then we can go into more detail. As Ben mentioned, we grew overall revenue 58% year-over-year.

We also generated a positive 21% adjusted EBITDA margin. Monthly active user growth remained strong with all major regions once again growing in the double digits. We did experience a modest monthly active user uplift at the end of the quarter related to iOS 14 updates. Younger users, in particular, turn to Pinterest to find inspiration for customized backgrounds.

We estimate this single use case drove an incremental 4 million monthly active users globally. Looking ahead, we expect these 4 million MAUs are more likely to churn in Q4 given that digital wallpaper is a relatively transient use case. Additionally, we expect our business to maintain its momentum in Q4 with revenue growing around 60% year-over-year. We saw much more demand for our advertising services than we expected in Q3.

There were three primary drivers of this strength. First, The investments we've made over the past year in technology and in sales coverage are continuing to pay off, and the returns exceeded our expectations in Q3. Over the past year, we've invested in conversion optimization or oCPM ads, shopping ads and auto bidding to help diversify our advertiser base, and we also expanded our sales team in Western Europe to monetize our engagement there. These investments continue to pay off.

Specifically, auto bid was a meaningful contributor to the strength in Q3, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. And our international business grew 145% year-over-year, now representing 16% of total revenue, up from 10% of revenue in Q3 of last year. Given the enormous opportunity ahead of us, we'll continue to invest opportunistically to best serve pinners, merchants and advertisers. The returns from these investments may not always be linear, but we do believe we have a strong road map ahead in 2021 and beyond.

Second, beyond our own investments, the macro environment is very supportive in Q3. Advertising demand improved overall, and we saw both brand advertisers and large retailers that have paused spend in Q2 return to our platform. We also saw continued strength in the conversion-oriented small- and medium-sized advertisers who gravitated to Pinterest in Q2 because of the native commercial intent of our users and because of the ongoing secular shift toward e-commerce that has been accelerated by the COVID crisis. Our sales team was able to lean into these favorable conditions in Q3, helping to introduce advertisers to new tools and features and operating with high efficiency overall.

Our go-to-market effectiveness has also been bolstered by the unique insights that we're able to provide to advertisers. Advertisers increasingly depend on these insights to understand leading indicators of consumer demand in this environment which earns us both mine share and ad spend. Third, we continued to benefit from marketers who are prioritizing positivity and brand safety. Advertisers tell us that Pinterest is brand-safe relative to other consumer Internet platforms, and we benefited from this in Q3, though it's still not clear how sustainable this trend will be particularly after the U.S.

election is over. Turning to our informal outlook for Q4. I want to provide some color here as well. We expect that our momentum will continue in Q4 as many of the Q3 drivers persist into the holiday season.

These include the positive trends driven by our investments in conversion and shopping ads, automation and international sales coverage. There are also two external unknowns that could impact our business. First, the impact of the COVID situation remains hard to predict, both on user engagement patterns as well as on advertiser demand. In addition to ongoing uncertainty related to continued disease spread and lockdowns across the globe, our visibility into Q4 is further limited by uncertainty about the impact COVID will have on seasonal engagement and ad spend.

Pinners may likely plan for the holidays differently, and it's hard to know how marketers will respond to these changes. The second unknown is the tailwind we've experienced from the advertiser boycott of social media that began in July. Along the end, this group of advertisers accelerated their spend on Pinterest in Q3. On the other hand, the attractiveness of a positive, brand-safe consumer platform may wane somewhat after the U.S.

election cycle is over in November. So some of that spend may weigh in too. To be clear, we think the positivity of Pinterest is a long-term competitive advantage for many reasons, but it's just difficult to predict near-term advertiser behavior, particularly in an election season. Finally, our current understanding of how both of these unknowns will play out is limited given that Q4 advertiser demand is typically back-end loaded in the quarter.

Finally, before opening it up for questions, I want to touch briefly on expenses. We continue to navigate a more remote working environment while maintaining investments in the long-term strategic priorities of the company. We took the steps to end a future lease obligation for the company during the quarter. To put a finer point on this, we believe a more distributed workforce will give us the opportunity to hire people from a wider range of backgrounds and experiences.

In Q3, we grew headcount 19% year-over-year at a similar pace to last quarter. As we look to Q4, we expect to modestly grow total non-GAAP operating expenses compared to the third quarter. We will continue to invest in our key strategic priorities including content, engagement, advertiser diversification and shopping. Thank you to the teams at Pinterest, our advertising partners and all of the people that come to Pinterest to find inspiration.

And with that, we can open it up for questions.

Questions & Answers:


Operator

[Operator instructions] Your first question comes from the line of Mark Mahaney from RBC. Your line is open.

Mark Mahaney -- RBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

OK, thank you. You talk about making Pinterest more shoppable. Could you just try to relay that into how that should show up in the financials of the company? Does that lead to -- is that something that causes inflation or accelerated growth in ad rates? How would -- from a financial perspective, what's the impact? How do we see that? Thanks a lot.

Todd Morgenfeld -- Chief Financial Officer and Head of Business Operations

So Mark, I think from a financial impact perspective, what we're trying to do right now in shopping is improve the inventory of shoppable products on Pinterest and then improve the discoverability of those products over time. So the investments we've been making, we talked over the last couple of calls about things like our success in ingesting more catalogs to get shoppable content onto the service. We've talked about partnerships that accelerate that work, and then we've talked about high-intent shopping surfaces that we've been building and designing to make -- make it easier for pinners to find not only inspiration but actually bring those items into their life. That's been the primary focus is the consumer experience.

And what we've talked about over the last couple of quarters is consistent with the way that we're thinking about it today. We'll eventually monetize that over time, but we're majoring in the consumer experience today and minoring in leverage revenue. Shopping-oriented revenue is growing quicker than the overall business, but it's just a small contributor to the overall mix. I would expect that to be a driver over a longer period of time.

Mark Mahaney -- RBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

OK. Thank you Todd.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Brian Nowak from Morgan Stanley. Your line is open.

Brian Nowak -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Great. Thanks for taking my question. I have two. The first one, in the letter, you mentioned that automated bidding for shopping launched in September.

Just curious if you could just sort of give us an early read on what you've seen from the automated bidding from shopping impact? And what is the overall advertising business growing in September? And secondly, you also talked about -- and Todd, you talked about sort of the road map. You talked about more tools to come in 4Q and in 2021. Maybe just high level, talk to us about some of the still existing friction points that you hope to solve for your advertisers over the course of the next 12 months. Thanks.

Todd Morgenfeld -- Chief Financial Officer and Head of Business Operations

Sure. There are a number of things that worked in the quarter, and I think we touched on a number of them in the opening comments, but I'll pause on the first one which is that ads are working on Pinterest right now. And advertisers are telling us that ads are working, and it's, in large part, due to the investments we've made in technology that make it easier for advertisers to hit their goals on the platform. And so there are really two areas where we're seeing that.

The first is around conversion activity. And especially in this environment, what we're hearing is that returns accountable performance formats that drive measurable conversions and online sales, particularly in the mid-market segment, are a sweet spot for us. We've been making those investments. We've talked about the work we've done on tag integration partnerships on making sure the tags are working, what we call tag health, building tools to deliver better insights, things like our Pinterest conversion analysis tool and our conversion insights tool.

That work has been incredibly impactful, and we're seeing the results in the growth of our SMB segment which really drove a significant part of our growth during the quarter. The second thing, and you touched on this, is the vision for automation. But you can imagine a world -- and this will take us a long time to deliver in reality. But the vision is that an advertiser brings us their budget, their goals and their content, and we automate the rest.

We started chipping away at this over the course of the last couple of quarters with our investments in auto bid. It started with traffic objectives several months ago and over -- around 80% of our CPC or traffic objectives are now running through auto bid. We launched auto bid for conversion optimization in July, and we're now at 50-plus percent of revenue through auto bid on that format. And we launched for shopping, as you mentioned, in September, and the uptake there has been quick as well.

So I think we've got a great road map ahead. As I mentioned in the opening remarks, I don't know that the returns will be linear on those things, but the vision around making it easier for advertisers to onboard and not do as much manual management of their campaigns is something that we think will drive long-term returns for us.

Brian Nowak -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Great. Thanks.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Lloyd Walmsley from Deutsche Bank. Your line is open.

Lloyd Walmsley -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Thanks. I got two questions, if you don't mind. First, the shareholder letter mentioned that the COVID cohort of users had even higher levels of retention and engagement in 3Q than previous cohorts. Wondering if there's enough signal kind of beyond the pandemic factors that give you a sense of whether this is going to be durably more engaged.

Anything you could share there. And then just secondly, you talked about budgets expanding associated with the oCPM spend for automated bidding. Do you feel like there's capacity for those budgets to scale up meaningfully or are there kind of limits, either in audience size or otherwise, to just how much room is left for the kind of existing clients to unlock more budget through optimization? Anything you can share there would be great.

Ben Silbermann -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure Lloyd. I can take the first part of your question. What I heard was how durable do we think that the cohort of users that have come on during COVID is and what do we know about how they engage with the platform so far. What we know right now is that the people that used -- that joined Pinterest during this COVID period, they do tend to engage at higher level across a basket of metrics than folks that joined at the same time last year.

But there are a few things that we've learned that are kind of worth sharing. First, we have seen that engagement tends to increase when lockdown order in effect and decrease when orders are lifted. And so while we believe that they'll net out in the positive place, we think that there's some effect from people spending more time at home. And the things they're doing at home are often things they've done for years but in a new way.

We talked in the last earnings call about setting up a home office or home school that even applies to things like seasonal events where parents are trying to reimagine Halloween or think about what is -- what do the holidays look like when instead of having a lot of families over, it might just be your family for Thanksgiving or Christmas. The second thing that we observed is that these users often come for a specific purpose and therefore use features like search more than more browse-y features like the home feed. And we think that that offers an opportunity because search is obviously a high-intent service, but it also raises the bar on the relevance of ads that we have to provide. That's why our long-term strategy is around relevance, and one of the drivers of that relevance is increasing the number of advertisers that we can serve by making it easy for managed small and midsized businesses to work with Pinterest.

So I don't know that we have a quantitative answer to your question, knowing exactly where engagement will net out. We assume there might be some erosion, but we do think that a lot of the early trends look positive, and we still see upside.

Todd Morgenfeld -- Chief Financial Officer and Head of Business Operations

Lloyd, on the second part of your question on capacity, I think Ben hit on the most important point which is around the high intent that we see on the platform and increasingly seeing search and related pins activity as being an opportunity for us to bring more medium-sized advertisers, more advertisers overall but specifically small- and medium-sized advertisers on the platform to continue to deliver relevant advertising against those interests. But to be even more kind of tactical about your question, what we're seeing right now is definitely more efficient spend through on existing budgets. So we're taking the manual nature out of campaign management and automating it to better returns for advertising partners and better clearing existing budgets, and we're seeing early returns on those budgets increasing. But I would say it's too early to have a specific and clear answer to your question about where the limits would be on that.

Lloyd Walmsley -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

OK. Thank you all.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Ross Sandler from Barclays. Your line is open.

Ross Sandler -- Barclays -- Analyst

Hey guys. Nice job on the quarter. So Todd, it seems like retail is really cranking right now, and you're seeing a lot of adoption of tag and auto bidding and some of these new features. Can you parse out -- I don't know if this is even possible.

But if you look at the growth rates that you were seeing before 3Q and then the growth rate of now you're seeing in the 50%, 60% range in third quarter after July, how much of that is because of some of these new feature sets that are in the ad stack versus just kind of a recovery in budget from macro conditions? And similarly, if we look at brand advertisers like in CPG, are they increasing budget because the overall environment is better or are there also tools that they're using in the Pinterest ad stack to unlock that higher run rate? Any color there would be helpful.

Todd Morgenfeld -- Chief Financial Officer and Head of Business Operations

Yeah. I mean, Ross, it's really hard to parse that. I mean I would love to be able to disaggregate that and say we're getting x amount on the technology investments we've made. We're getting y amount on demand returning.

From a macro perspective, our insights give us a certain amount of the brand safety equates to the remainder. In reality, it's a combination of all the above. Ads are working. I think we went through this a little bit on Brian's question but making it easier for -- especially medium-sized advertisers to onboard and automate spending their budgets effectively against their desired online conversion, and sales objectives has been a big driver for us.

It's been driving our advertiser account up, and it's been a significant component of our growth story. We've seen a major impact just around brands, CPG advertisers and brand advertisers returning to the platform after a pause in Q2 and the return of retail, especially the larger omnichannel retailers that had paused in Q2. We're seeing a lot of interest in the insights that we're bring to advertisers. The notion that our -- the commercial intent of our users translates into a leading indicator of where demand is going to go is really resonating.

We're seeing that with advertisers like Hershey around Halloween at home as a trend. I think Ben may have mentioned that before. We had great conversations with Miracle-Gro around home gardening trends that enable them to deliver much more effective advertising campaigns powered by the insights that we delivered. Welch's is another example around summer celebration and back to school, where we were able to help them with their campaign management and creative to deliver a much more performant advertising campaign.

So those insights are really differentiating and are causing a lot of traction with advertisers. And then finally, this brand safety concept, especially post July and the boycotts that we saw. I would imagine that we're seeing a sustained benefit, just due to the election season. But I think it's a secular trend where advertisers want to be around positivity as they build their brands, and that's contributing to our growth as well, and that's what we're hearing.

So it's a mix of product and technology, macro recovery, the insights that we're able to deliver and the brand safety and positivity that Pinterest uniquely brings in the world of social media.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Eric Sheridan from UBS. Your line is open.

Eric Sheridan -- UBS -- Analyst

Thanks so much for taking the question. Maybe two, if I can. On the international ad revenue, that's a number where you've made a lot of investments over the last 12 to 24 months. Can you talk a little bit about when you should be expecting to yield from those investments and have the international opportunity on the monetization side, continues to evolve versus what you've seen on the user and engagement side of the equation? And then coming back to an earlier question.

In the newer cohort of users which seem to be younger skewing, anything you're doing on the product or the engagement front those users engaged to keep that cohort evolving? Just want to come back to see if there was any active management and sort of notification, funnel engagement that the company might be doing to sustain some of that. Thank you.

Todd Morgenfeld -- Chief Financial Officer and Head of Business Operations

Thanks Eric. I can take the first part, and then Ben can probably speak to the second. On international, I would say we have started investing more aggressively about 1.5 years ago to staff out offices in Western Europe and get some direct coverage on the ground, beef up our teams in English-speaking countries outside of the U.S. And those efforts scaled in terms of the investments over the course of last year and into early -- the earlier part of this year.

And I would say we're seeing those results. 145% growth in revenue in international markets is being driven really by a handful of English-speaking countries outside of the U.S. and Western Europe. We're from -- we're up from 10% of revenue in the year-ago quarter to 16% of revenue now from international in this quarter, and the momentum we're seeing there has been remarkable.

We're still staffing those. We're still hiring to staff those offices out as we believe that those markets present a lot more upside even from where we are today. And so I feel very good about what we're doing from an execution standpoint. The teams are doing a terrific job building relationships with advertisers and delivering great results, and so that's been remarkable.

And I see a lot of other opportunity for us beyond those markets as we move forward. We're hoping to begin monetizing in the next region, Latin America, in the first half of next year. And I think there's a lot more that we can be doing across our existing monetized markets outside the U.S. and into new regions as the next few years unfold.

Ben Silbermann -- President and Chief Executive Officer

And Eric, to answer your second question, Todd mentioned in his opening remarks that we saw particular surge of young users following the iOS 14 release as a lot of young people look to customize their phones. But that trend of users under the age of 25 joining and growing at a faster rate than users over the age of 25 is something we've seen for a couple of quarters continuously. And when we talk to these users, what they tell us is they're excited to have a place where they can get inspiration. They feel well served with wonderful tools they can use to keep in touch with their friends and follow celebrities, but Pinterest offers them something different which is a chance to get inspiration on everything from what they wear, to hobbies that they might have, to future plans.

Your question was what we're doing for these users in particular. We're doing a few things. First, the top priority for the company has been to make sure Pinterest is the home for inspiring content. In previous calls, we talked about a really significant increase in video, and young users really expect video as the primary way they get inspiration.

And we've seen really fantastic growth in viewership of both organic and paid video. This quarter, we introduced new tools for people to publish video stories to capitalize on that trend. And then we also have some experiments that are in place. This week, we launched an iOS widget which let people take that inspiration, whether it's an inspiring quote or inspiring styles and put it directly onto their phone.

And we'll continue to try things to see how we can make the inspiration as useful and relevant and accessible to these young users as possible. So we do think that we pay close attention to that under 25 cohort. We don't see significant divergence of behavior, but they are -- they tend to be trendsetters, and so we monitor them closely and see what we can learn.

Eric Sheridan -- UBS -- Analyst

Great. Thanks so much.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Michael Levine from Pivotal. Your line is open.

Michael Levine -- Pivotal Research -- Analyst

I mean I know there were a couple of questions before guys around shopping traction. I'd love to hear maybe a bit of an update of how much of this is releasing a big unlock around shopping partners like Shopify versus some of the internal efforts that you guys have made regarding catalog ingestion. And I guess the secondary question to that is are you learning things from working with Shopify that's actually allowing you to get smarter as you basically are doing more to onboard on your own?

Ben Silbermann -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure Michael. I can start. And Todd, feel free to add on to it more. So we've outlined for several quarters in a row that our shopping strategy really has two major goals.

One is improving our inventory of reliable products. And so as you mentioned, improvements that we've made to a retailer's ability to upload their catalog, those do indeed have a really, really big impact. This quarter, we've released UI improvements to make it simpler. We've increased the speed of uploading.

We've also introduced things like scheduling, and all of those things really are about building a base of very, very high-quality inventory, some trustworthy retailers with accurate pricing information. And Shopify has been part of that story. Shopify is home to some of the most inspirational retailers, and so we're really excited to be able to partner with them and really remove the friction from retailers that want to upload their catalog to the audience on Pinterest that are really looking for inspiration and do it with just one tap. So that's kind of that first part about inventory.

And then the second part of the strategy is taking out inventory, how do we improve the discoverability of those products. And on Pinterest, we have a little bit of a different approach than what some people might call spear phishing. People on Pinterest start with something they want to achieve, a scene of a living room, a scene of a look, and then they work backwards into the products. And we've been building dedicated shopping surfaces, so you can take that inspirational image and then see that great catalog of inspiring inventory, some of which might come from Shopify or any of the other merchants that we're working on.

And that's been something that's been going really well, although we still have a long way to go. Over the last six months, the number of pinners that are engaging with their shopping surfaces, it's grown more than 85%, so really, really significantly. And we're really working to balance and make sure that you start with inspiration. And then when you're ready to go ahead and make that purchase, you can do it really easily.

The last thing I'd add is that we think that that trend ultimately will be global. We just took our very first step in internationalizing that in Q3 when we launched shopping in the U.K.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Mark Shmulik from Bernstein. Your line is open.

Mark Shmulik -- Sanford C. Bernstein -- Analyst

Yes. Hi. Thanks for taking the questions. I know the press release yesterday called out inspiration-led digital shopping.

You certainly talked on this call a lot about kind of some of the new features, brand pages, etc. So a lot of changes to the consumer product. If we think about some of the kind of loyalist users with the longer -- the older vintage users, any color you can share on how they're adapting to all the product changes? I know the 85% number on shopping, but any color on how they're engaging would be very helpful. Thank you.

Ben Silbermann -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks for the question, Mark. So I think there are two ways of looking at that question. The first is are new users engaging and using some of the new features we're launching? And the answer in general is a lot of the features we're building are things that our users have been asking us for, for years and years. So the No.

1 user request for years is I see something, it looks great. I'm all ready to buy it, and then I can't find it. And that's what's really driving our investments in shopping. Similarly, as the web has become more visual and more video based, people have wanted a richer and more immersive way to experience those.

And so while things like Story Pins are very new, we're optimistic given the success we've seen. I did mention earlier that one thing we're observing is that some of our newer users use Pinterest more for search base. So it's still inspiration and visual discovery, but they're actually searching for specific things. And so if there was a difference I would say particularly the COVID cohort and the more recent cohorts have been engaged more deeply in search.

And so we're always looking to think how do we take the areas that users are engaging with a lot and amplify them but also share with them parts of the service they may not yet have had a chance to experience.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Colin Sebastian from Baird. Your line is open.

Colin Sebastian -- Baird -- Analyst

All right. Thanks. Appreciate the time. With the concurrent trends of brand advertisers returning to the platform as well as the launch of some of the more shopping or action-related ad formats and tools, wondering what the rough split is now between brand and direct response.

And then maybe as a quick follow-up to a few of the earlier questions on catalog ingestion. I guess given what appears to be an earlier start to holiday shopping this year and concerns around delivery, does that mean that the newer shopping ads and oCPM are getting perhaps an unseasonal boost here in September, October than what you might otherwise expect in a normalized year? Thanks.

Todd Morgenfeld -- Chief Financial Officer and Head of Business Operations

Thank Colin. I appreciate the question. So on the first point on brand versus performance advertising, we've long been majority performance oriented, meaning traffic, conversion optimization and shopping versus awareness advertising. We mixed a little bit more toward performance in the quarter.

But in general, this is across-the-board strength across our brands, our awareness, objectives all the way through performance. And I think that highlights one of the unique aspects of the platform that we often hear from advertisers. There's value in the full funnel experience going from inspiration and finding a new idea all the way through a transaction is something that's a powerful mix, and I think we're seeing the results of that. To your point on the shopping experience, this is -- it's just really hard to know in this COVID environment how things will play out.

And our Q4 has typically been pretty back-end loaded in the month of November and December. We're definitely seeing shopping happening a little earlier probably than last year, but it just remains to be seen how the rest of the quarter plays out and how these seasonal moments may adopt. I mean if you think back to last quarter, we talked about back to school being a risk in Q3, and we end up seeing a fair amount of back-to-school spend. It just happened in slightly different verticals and at different times and a little bit more dynamically than what we had typically seen.

So even in Q4, right now, the planning cycles, the dynamism around spend and the flexibility and nimble nature that advertisers are bringing to this season is a little bit unprecedented for us.

Colin Sebastian -- Baird -- Analyst

All right. Thanks Todd.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Doug Anmuth from JP Morgan. Your line is open.

Doug Anmuth -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

Great. Thanks for taking question. I have two. First, just want to get some more color on the trend in ad load.

I know you're more demand-constrained than supply constrained. But how do you think about ad load in terms of where you are now versus where you could be over time? And then second, just on expenses and kind of how this leads to 4Q EBITDA. Just want to clarify, Todd, that you said expenses would only be up modestly 3Q to 4Q. And with that, am I wrong in thinking that your near-term margins could be significantly higher than your long-term targets that you laid out last year which I believe were 25% to 29%? Thanks.

Todd Morgenfeld -- Chief Financial Officer and Head of Business Operations

Thanks, Doug. So on the -- I'll take both of those. So on the ad load point, we saw a mix of contribution from impressions and price globally in the quarter, so it was much more balanced in terms of the impact of price and volume on revenue performance. That was one way of thinking about your question.

I think, overall, the message is still consistent with what we started with when we went public which is this is a platform where ads, if they're delivered to the right person at the right time, can feel like content. And we're more constrained by relevance in advertising than messaging or social media, where ads are attacks on the experience. So for us, it's mostly about how do we -- how we deliver relevant advertising content that speaks to the interest in the commercial intent of our users. One of the benefits of having high-intent shopping surfaces, as an example, is that we're better equipped to sort of a higher density of advertising.

If you're on Pinterest to find home decor items, you probably welcome advertisements that are from a retailer that you trust with an aesthetic that matches your taste, etc. So I think we're a little bit further along in the U.S. than we are globally. There's a ton of room globally on ad load.

We're probably a little closer to our guardrails in the U.S. than we are on a global basis, but there's a lot of upside if we can continue to get more advertisers on the platform continue to deliver high-intent shopping surfaces and through our technology make sure we're serving the right ad to the right person at the right time. On expenses, when I thought about long-term margins, we were thinking about them on an annualized basis. And you can imagine in a seasonal business like ours where Q1 revenue is quite a small contribution relative to the annual amount and Q4 is much larger, as we go into Q4, that will typically be the highest margin quarter for the company over the course of the year.

You're right that in a world where we grow our expenses modestly that margins would expand in Q4. And it's probably worth calling out too, that even in the year-ago quarter, we did some brand marketing tests to the tune of nearly $10 million of spend that we won't be doing this year. There's a lot of those sorts of investments that in this COVID environment, we will revisit going into next year when we think they can be effective again. But things like travel, events, marketing spend over the last few months have just been expenses we haven't had to deal with in this environment.

And we're looking for ways to continue to invest going into next year that would be on items that we had deferred through this COVID period. And marketing, in particular, was one of those. So yes, the margins could be higher. But on an annualized basis, we'll still be below our long-term targets.

Doug Anmuth -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

Understood. Very helpful. Thank you.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Justin Post from Bank of America. Your line is open.

Justin Post -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Great. A couple of questions. First, can you help us understand if the category strength has been broad-based or has been really concentrated in things like home or cooking or something like that? Could you -- just trying to think about sustainability. And then second, you gave an outlook for 60% in Q4, but it sounded like you're somewhat conservative in the back half.

Is it fair to say you put some deceleration in your outlook as the quarter progresses? Thank you.

Ben Silbermann -- President and Chief Executive Officer

I can take the first part of the question, Justin. We did see kind of engagement across a number of our core verticals: food, home, beauty, style. Predictably, there were some use cases that were less popular than they have been in the past, things like people planning for big outdoor events. Although interestingly, we started to see some uptick in that as people might be looking forward to the future.

So as I mentioned a couple of times before, we're monitoring closely the sustainability of that engagement and how particularly that cohort of users who joined during the COVID period engages with the service, but we don't see massive category shifts from that cohort, in particular.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Rob Sanderson from Loop Capital. Your line is open.

Rob Sanderson -- Loop Capital -- Analyst

Yes. Thanks for taking the question. Congratulations on the momentum. Todd, this is for you.

You spoke about several factors that limit your visibility into Q4 back-end-loaded quarter. Not sure about the permanence of the benefit from brand safety, etc. Can you help us reconcile that with your guidance for about 60% revenue growth? Are you growing faster than that through October and forecasting some slowdown or how are you thinking about those unknowns in the fourth quarter? And then also any thought on the impact of having a few more shopping days during the peak part of the season this year? I don't think that was anything that slowed you down last year having fewer days. But was that -- how are you looking at that dynamic this year versus a year ago? Thank you.

Todd Morgenfeld -- Chief Financial Officer and Head of Business Operations

Thanks. And I know we skipped over the second part of Justin's question, but I think it was very similar to the one you just asked about the back-end-loaded nature of the quarter and momentum that we're seeing. And the reality is we're -- and I think I can answer both of those. Maybe you can talk about shopping days.

In general, we're seeing a lot of the same drivers in Q4 that we saw in Q3. As I mentioned before, the ads are working. Our investments in technology and product are working around conversions and automation. We are seeing kind of the return of retail and continued strength in CPG advertisers.

We're seeing a lot of appetite for the insights that we're delivering which is sustained through Q3 and into Q4. This brand safety narrative has continued to be -- we talked about it on the last earnings call. We didn't really know if it was going to be a July phenomenon only or if it would persist. And if it persisted, would it persist past the election? It's persisted, and it seems to be something that's important to advertisers, but we'll see post election how it plays out.

And then the international strength that we've been seeing has been a source of upside. It's one we've talked about for a long time and have been investing in, but it's played out nicely. So I'd say we're seeing a lot of the same drivers that we saw through Q3 play out into Q4. And hopefully, we'll -- despite this weird environment that we're in, hopefully, we'll see it play out.

But those risks around how COVID impacts seasonal moments, how shopping behavior changes, how people celebrate those moments, how advertisers respond to them, whether advertising around an election that maybe -- quite a new cycle here in the next few weeks, how that plays out, those are just uncertainties for us right now. On the shopping days point, we talked about that last year being a headwind, and it didn't really play out that way. So I'm hesitant to call it in the other direction this year as upside. And so we'll see how it plays out.

I do think we've seen shopping behavior start a little earlier this year, and I would expect that given that that maybe it doesn't matter how many days are in the official shopping period between Black Friday and the end of the year.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Rich Greenfield from LightShed Partners. Your line is open.

Rich Greenfield -- Lightshed Partners -- Analyst

Hi. Thanks very much. In the letter, you talked about the robust growth of video content on the platform but wanted to kind of think about as you offer and you talked about I think how younger users kind of expect or table stakes is having more video content. How does that play into video advertising and sort of the CPMs that you can get for video ads? And sort of what have you done in terms of early work around video ads as you introduce more and more video content into the platform? And then just sort of stories I know you rolled out recently.

I think it was mentioned sort of in passing in the letter. Anything more you can add in terms of sort of early learnings or uses? And just what are people doing with it that excites you or how you're evolving the product?

Todd Morgenfeld -- Chief Financial Officer and Head of Business Operations

Rich, can you shore on that second part of the question. I missed the second part of the question.

Rich Greenfield -- Lightshed Partners -- Analyst

Sorry, on stories. As you kind of rolled out the Story Pins, like what do you see -- I mean you sort of mentioned it in the release as a new format, but you didn't go into a lot of detail. Wondering if there's just anything in terms of early learnings or what people are doing with it, encouraging or what you need to change, etc.

Ben Silbermann -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. I mean I can start. So yes. We think that video is an ideal format for getting inspiration, and I think that what we've heard is a lot of merchants are really excited about having a richer platform to tell their stories.

So on the organic side, we continue to see really strong growth in just video views. And then we're also seeing a really strong growth in the number of videos uploaded to Pinterest. We had a seven times growth in videos uploaded year-on-year. How does that apply to advertisers? Well, we've made some investments to really improve the video advertising experience for advertisers.

For example, in the last quarter, we introduced carousel format. You can now have a video cover on that carousel. And we see that video is making up a larger portion of our revenue over time, just again because it's a great format. And it applies not only to brand but there's also different performance-based objectives that can be served with video.

A great example of this was Häagen-Dazs, kind of personal favorite of mine because I like ice cream. They wanted to introduce people to kind of new product lines. They ran a video ad campaign as well as standard ads, and they just saw really great results. 3% lift in sales and a two times return on ad spend as measured by Nielsen Catalina.

So the second part of the question is really about stories. And you correctly point out this is really early, but what we're excited about is that we begin to be able to innovate on the video format. So some stories that I've been excited about, we see people teaching folks how to cook recipes, and we launched a campaign called Chefs at Home, where we had a lot of restaurateurs and chefs cooking recipes at their house and teaching people how to do it. We've seen people create videos for fitness story pins, showing people how to do exercise routines.

We see things like DIY. There were a lot of videos on how to make your own mask. And we're starting to also bring on more talent that's more familiar with how to produce great video content. So we hired -- one of our first hires in the company that came from the media publishing, Aya, who came from Hearst.

We've also added some expertise onto our Board. In the last quarter, we mentioned the addition of Andrea Wishom, who worked with Oprah. More recently, we work with Salaam, who came from Disney but also as the president of Style. So overall, we think we're really early there.

We think the opportunity to use video to deliver inspiration is a big one, and we're eager to learn what people find as inspiring and most useful in the platform.

Rich Greenfield -- Lightshed Partners -- Analyst

Thanks a lot for taking the question. Appreciate it.

Operator

Your final question comes from the line of Heath Terry from Goldman Sachs. Your line is open.

Heath Terry -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Great. Thanks. You've mentioned a couple of times including in the letter, the return on ad spend that your advertisers are seeing. I was wondering if you could dig into that just a little bit deeper for us.

I'm sure you've got other anecdotes or -- either quantitative or qualitative that you might be willing to share just on what you're seeing in the return on ad spend that advertisers are recognizing, especially as it's trended over time through the pandemic as you've got more advertisers on the platform and presumably driving up prices to a degree, but also as you've innovated on the technology side to improve targeting and measurement in ways that's likely improving that return on ad spend as well. So any insight into the trends that you're seeing there would be helpful.

Ben Silbermann -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. I can start Heath, and Todd might add more color. I mean in general we've seen advertisers see great returns across a variety of different objectives. We've given some examples about brand objectives, but we're also seeing great results from people pursuing traffic or conversion objectives.

As you pointed out, some of that has been driven by improvements in our ability to measure transactions. We've talked over, gosh, the last three quarters about investments we're making to make sure that people can really understand the unique value that Pinterest brings through first-party measurement, through better conversion tools. And what's especially important for us is that people come to Pinterest, and they often don't specifically know what they're looking for. And so they might have a longer conversion window before they actually make a purchase.

And so we've really focused on helping people tell that story from the moment of inspiration to the ultimate purchase. Now those have really benefited us. And then the other big benefit has come, as we talked about before, from automation, making it less on the advertiser themselves to actually customize all the different parameters. They set that objective, and then we figure out the best way to utilize that budget.

And we've seen just great returns on both of those fronts. Todd, anything to add there?

Todd Morgenfeld -- Chief Financial Officer and Head of Business Operations

No. I thought that was great. Thank you.

Heath Terry -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Great. Thank you.

Operator

I will now turn the call back over to Jane Penner.

Jane Penner

Thanks so much everyone. I'm actually going to turn the call back over to Ben so he can close it out.

Ben Silbermann -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, thanks everyone for joining the call and for your interesting questions. We look forward to keeping the dialogue going, and please enjoy the rest of your day.

Operator

[Operator signoff]

Duration: 51 minutes

Call participants:

Jane Penner

Ben Silbermann -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Todd Morgenfeld -- Chief Financial Officer and Head of Business Operations

Mark Mahaney -- RBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

Brian Nowak -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Lloyd Walmsley -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Ross Sandler -- Barclays -- Analyst

Eric Sheridan -- UBS -- Analyst

Michael Levine -- Pivotal Research -- Analyst

Mark Shmulik -- Sanford C. Bernstein -- Analyst

Colin Sebastian -- Baird -- Analyst

Doug Anmuth -- J.P. Morgan -- Analyst

Justin Post -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Rob Sanderson -- Loop Capital -- Analyst

Rich Greenfield -- Lightshed Partners -- Analyst

Heath Terry -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

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Motley Fool Transcribing has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Pinterest. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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