Marissa Mayer: Tumblr’s porn can stay

As soon as Marissa Mayer announced Yahoo’s $1.1 billion purchase of Tumblr Monday, she confronted the tricky issue that would inevitably face the acquisition: How to both A) Keep Tumblr as it has been so as not to risk alienating the community and sparking a diaspora that could turn it into the next Digg and B) Convince Yahoo advertisers that they should spend money in a web environment with all kinds of NSFW content, namely porn.

The dual mandates of porn and advertising that would make for a successful acquisition for Yahoo seem to be irreconcilable. But Mayer seemed to have a solution on an investor call about the acquisition Monday: Targeted advertising.

Mayer indicated that Yahoo would allow Tumblr’s porn to stay, and that they’d keep Yahoo’s mainstream advertising clientele away from the NSFW content with sophisticated ad targeting. Asked specifically about Tumblr’s porn pages, she said:

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.

In terms of the integration between the two sites, we plan to operate and brand and grow Tumblr separately from Yahoo. We will not have Yahoo branding on the Tumblr site. We want to let Tumblr be Tumblr, and let Yahoo be Yahoo.

The announcement this morning has been notable for how vocally both Yahoo and Tumblr have been about distancing themselves from each other. Tumblr CEO David Karp said “We’re not turning purple,” and Mayer said, “We promise not to screw it up.” Though seemingly aware of the high risk of that possibility, she used a viral art meme without giving credit to the artist on Tumblr, prompting some to complain that she was currently, and by virtue of that post, screwing it up.

Keeping Tumblr’s porn intact is certainly one high-profile way of extending an olive branch to the Tumblr community. We’ll see if they’re satisfied.