Reddit is ready for advertisers, but are advertisers ready for Reddit?
Chris Tuff has not yet had a client advertise on Reddit. But he came close. Once.
As executive VP and director of partnerships and content marketing at 22squared, Tuff had a client intrigued enough in the platform that the brand commissioned his agency to craft a campaign to run on Reddit. But draft after draft, the campaign’s initial concept weakened. That often happens with any campaign running anywhere, but the risk is higher when running that campaign on Reddit.
“With that watering down, we got way too close to being susceptible to the backlash [from Reddit’s audience, commonly called ‘Redditors’]. You’ve got to be very careful. We’re not going to touch that unless we’re pretty certain that this is something Redditors will embrace,” said Tuff.
Tuff’s is far from an isolated example of Reddit’s reputation for scaring off advertisers. Executives at four different major holding company agencies declined to be interviewed for this article because the platform has not gained much adoption among their clients due to brand-safety concerns. Those concerns range from worries that ads will appear on controversial “subreddits,” or topic-based message forums, to fears of campaigns being flayed alive by Redditors on anti-advertising subreddits like HailCorporate.
However, underlying Tuff’s statement about brands being wary of how they will be embraced by Reddit’s audience is the notion that brands do want to be embraced by Reddit’s audience, perhaps now more than ever. With more than 330 million people using its platform each month, the self-described “front page of the internet” has become too big for brands to ignore or to classify it as fringe.
Reddit is “not something our clients have been interested in. But we’re starting to see it pick up more. We’re starting to get questions like ‘What about Reddit?'” said Andy Amendola, senior director of digital strategy and media at The Community.
Any question about advertising on Reddit is typically followed by a question about whether it’s safe to advertise on Reddit. In the past, the answer was often a “hard no.” Now, it is softening as Reddit strengthens its efforts to cater to advertisers. “Reddit has become way more brand-friendly in the last year or so,” said one agency exec.
However, Reddit has not done a sufficient job in making advertisers aware of those efforts. Heading into a major redesign of its site in 2018, Reddit doesn’t appear to have a brand-safety problem as much as a brand-safety perception problem.
The rough side of Reddit
“They call it the front page of the internet, but it’s more like the street. Anything can happen on the street, ” said Amendola.
Sometimes on the street, people get punched in the mouth. The same goes on Reddit. Last week, Redditors took to a subreddit dedicated to video game “Star Wars: Battlefront” to complain about a pricing scheme employed by the game’s maker Electronic Arts in its latest edition. Then the brand entered the fray. Electronic Arts used its brand account to respond to the comments and explain the pricing scheme. Its attempt to address the controversy head-on backfired. Hard. On Reddit, people can upvote or downvote comments; think of these as similar to Facebook’s “like” button and its nonexistent polar opposite. Electronic Arts’s response became the most downvoted comment in the history of Reddit.
“If agencies are being responsible and looking out for their own livelihoods, then they’re warning all brands to be very, very careful because Reddit is — take the most critical, bullying group of individuals on the internet and throw them into one community; that is Reddit,” said Tuff.
That is not only Reddit, though. Not anymore. Over the past year, advertisers have become increasingly aware that, just as Reddit has a rough side, so do Facebook and Twitter. “Reddit used to be seen as this place that had a lot of fringe elements, but now those elements are coming to the largest social platforms. There’s trolls on Twitter. There’s fake news on Facebook. It used to be that kind of stuff lived on the dark corner of Reddit. But now everywhere is being plagued by the same issue in this new normal,” said Amendola.
That new normal doesn’t mean that advertisers are necessarily more or better equipped for Reddit’s rough side. But they may be more tolerant of it. As Amendola put it, “When everything else becomes less safe, Reddit becomes a new option where brands can try something new and innovate.”