Reddit offers brands a chance to get ahead of the curve

from Frederick Braake

Frederick Braake
Strategist, Jung von Matt Aktiengesellschaft

Reddit is more than just the front page of the internet. Recently, it even took out a five-second ad during the Super Bowl. We look at why brands should consider branching out into the Web’s underbelly.

Reddit, the self-described “front page of the internet,” recently offered fresh proof of its ability to kickstart social movements.

Over the past few weeks, the subreddit r/WallStreetBets temporarily brought democracy to the world of stock trading, causing the price of shares in video game retailer GameStop to skyrocket – and hedge fund managers to hemorrhage money. 

Reddit’s digital class warfare made such an impression that the site decided to broadcast a five-second ad about it during the commercial break at the Super Bowl – perhaps the most Trojan intervention so far in this year’s advertising war. The whole affair has gained Reddit a lot of attention from outside its own community in the past few days, bringing a curious public face to face with the culture of the Web’s most exciting place to be.

It’s not the first time the site has demonstrated its power to generate momentum. In 2012, for instance, it hijacked a Walmart poll to get the rapper Pitbull sent to the world’s most remote Walmart in Alaska. Meanwhile, each Christmas the RedditGifts community organizes the world’s largest Secret Santa. No less a personage than Bill Gates himself took part a couple of years ago, and the initiative has even made it into the Guinness Book of Records.

What’s in it for brands?

Despite the site’s awkward interface and cryptic language, it’s worth it for brands to persevere, because once you get past the initial barriers you’ll come face to face with the internet’s underbelly. Raw, unpolished content often starts out in Reddit before making its way into mainstream pop culture. The site acts as a seismograph for internet trends, like a primordial soup from which digital phenomena bubble up and then go on to take other platforms by storm.

That creates opportunities for brands. These opportunities do, admittedly, come at the cost that the Reddit community is volatile and sometimes unpredictable. However, unlike Facebook and Instagram, the relevance of posts and discussions on Reddit isn’t rated by algorithms, but by the community itself via upvoting and downvoting. The most relevant, exciting, and popular posts, the ones really worth reading, always go to the top of the feed. That means that brands that venture into the world of Reddit have a chance to spot cultural and social trends before anyone else. They can also generate far higher community engagement than on other platforms.

Take, for example, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the toy manufacturer Lego. Both brands have put aside any qualms and become more active on Reddit, where they now enjoy a vibrant, rewarding relationship with their communities. MLB offers fans exclusive match highlights and behind-the-scenes footage, while Lego heaps praise and comments on homemade Lego creations that users post in the forum. 

Other brands are still more reticent about using Reddit, which means that those that take the plunge now will have a head start.

But to take advantage of it, they will need to remember that the same is true for Reddit as for the analogue world: If you want fresh insights into pop culture and a direct line to your audience, then you’ll need to actually engage with that culture and that audience.

Jung von Matt 2020