Opinion: Confused about advertising on Reddit? Here's your rulebook

It’s probably a strange idea to start an article on MARKETING-INTERACTIVE with a quote from a very mediocre Bollywood movie, but given that we’re in the 14th month of 2020, strange is now our way of life. In 2013’s Chennai Express, Bollywood Superstar Shahrukh Khan said (repeatedly) “Never underestimate the power of a common man”. Okay. Now, assuming that the common man truly does possess this infinite and ‘not-to-be-underestimated’ power, imagine the power of infinite hordes of common men coming together.

Specimen A: Reddit. There is perhaps no greater evidence of what common people can do once they come together than the saga we have witnessed over the last three weeks. Thousands of regular, common people, came together over Reddit and decided to push the stocks of GameStop all the way from US$30 to US$500 – in the process, making the Wall Street experts lose billions!

So much so, that the Reddit guys actually took out a Super Bowl spot! Sure, they spent their entire marketing budget to score just five seconds of airtime, but the message was still clear: look what can happen when regular people come together over Reddit. As they stated in the ad: “Powerful things happen when people rally around something they really care about. And there’s a place for that. It’s called Reddit.”

The ad has become one of the most-searched Super Bowl commercials on Google on Sunday night and, not too surprisingly, received more than 270,000 upvotes after being posted on Reddit. Not too bad for an ad that was brainstormed five days before the telecast! Now, what does this mean? Should we all log on to Reddit and start investing?

Well, sure. But more importantly, we need to re-look at Reddit. Apart from the schadenfreude we all are enjoying of seeing Wall Street experts lose billions of dollars, this incident has also forced us to look at Reddit in a new light. But this time, we need to see it not just as a niche corner of the web giving a platform to obsessed, discussion-hungry keyboard warriors, but as a fantastic platform for brands and advertisers.

What is Reddit exactly?

Reddit is essentially a social network and content curation site, where users (or Redditors) contribute content, comment on it, and upvote/downvote things based on their relevance and usability. All the content is further divided into sub-communities, based on themes – these are called sub-reddits. The themes for subreddits may be broad (eg. “movies” or “gardening”) or very niche (eg. “CraftBeer” or “MacrameArt”). There is a subreddit for (almost) everything - from r/Cooking for kitchen enthusiasts, to r/ChairsUnderWater which is literally just a bunch of pictures of chairs...under water.

Literally anyone can create a subreddit, which means there is a constant flow of activity, content, and interaction. And just to put this in context: there are 2.2 million subreddits. And over 130,000 active communities, according to Reddit Metrics from 2020. It is an incredibly vocal and engaged platform, where users will happily engage in deep discussions and offer genuine feedback on products and brands as well as advice on life matters.

Why Reddit matters

1. A growing global community

There are more than 430 million monthly active Reddit users worldwide, according to the platform. While a significant chunk of this is in the US, and the major social networks have considerably more members (Facebook has 2.6 billion users globally), Reddit shouldn’t be taken lightly as an international powerhouse. As of February 2021, Reddit ranks as the 18th-most-visited website in the world and 7th most-visited website in the US, according to Alexa.

2. Most time spent

Reddit users spend on average 10 minutes and 23 seconds per visit on the site. According to Alexa Topsites 2019 data, Reddit’s daily time spent on the website was 76% higher than the top 10 trafficked websites, plus data from SimilarWeb last year revealed that daily pageviews per visitor were nearly three times those on Facebook.

3. Home of the young

Majority of (60%) all people on Reddit are between the ages of 18 and 29, according to Marketing Charts in 2019. In a world where almost all brands are chasing the youth, we call this a marketing jackpot.

4. Very passionate discussions

Reddit is filled with very articulate and happy-to-engage people, who are eager to provide a point of view on anything. For a brand, this is a great platform to engage users in discussions about product development, ideas, and feedback.

5. Cost-effective yet high engagement

Reddit has 430 million monthly active users, while Twitter has 321 million, The Washington Post said. Yet, Reddit generated just US$100M in ad revenue in 2018 while Twitter reached US$655M the same year! What this means is that ad competition is low and inventory is comparatively cheap.

Reddit advertising is cheap, low-funnel traffic with a highly-engaged audience and highly specific targeting. It’s a dream come true for PPC marketers, plus offers a great opportunity for organic promotion.

6. Micro-targeting and niche markets

Remember we said there are 2.2 million subreddits? 2.2 MILLION? Yeah, that means there is a subreddit for literally anything! And you are bound to find one that is relevant to your brand. Reaching these very specific sub-groups means that you can have highly niche, highly targeted audience segments. If you understand your target audience and buyer persona well, you can not only actually connect with qualified leads for your products, but also find the exact match for your brand’s narrative.

You want to reach people who are interested in gluten-free baking? There’s a subreddit for that. You want to engage people who like Traditional Ashtanga Yoga? There’s a subreddit for that. You want to talk to people who think vegetarian biryani is better than mutton biryani? There’s a word for that – lunacy.

How to use Reddit?

Now, according to major marketers such as Anheuser-Busch, Reddit is considered “one of the trickiest platforms to be able to crack”. I’m not going to debate that. However, there are certain basic principles to keep in mind if you decide to use Reddit as a platform. And in case this article has been too subtle so far, I really think you should.

Here are the five commandments of using Reddit in your marketing mix. (Why not 10? Because we blew our entire budget on five commandments.)

1. Use Reddit as a discussion platform, not a self promotion platform

When it comes to Reddit, just like the real world, the user is the king. They hold the power to "upvote" and "downvote" – and they are more than happy to do both! So, if you give them content they find relevant, enjoyable and useful, they will make you trend. But if you use Reddit as an ad platform, and simply unleash your marketing materials on the unsuspecting millions, they will happily push you down until you reside in the netherworld, along with Dalgona coffee and internet trolls. Therefore, if you use Reddit as a platform to provide content and support, instead of advertisement and promotions, and engage the audience, invite feedback, and ask their opinions on products and services, then the community will embrace and support you.

A classic example is American luxury chain Nordstrom. Nordstrom started its own subreddit where users can discuss products, seek customer service, and share experiences with each other. Nordstrom doesn’t use the subreddit to just push ads and make sales. It tunes into their customers’ needs and foster a sense of community.

2. Use "AMA" to engage

AMA is short for "Ask Me Anything", one of Reddit’s most popular features. Interesting people come online and invite users to join them in a virtual Q&A session, and famous names such as Barack Obama and Jeff Goldblum have used this in very popular ways. Brands can use this innovatively to deliver their messages too.

Audi famously created a web series where celebrities answered Redditors’ questions while speeding in Audi’s latest car. The auto brand used the then-new streaming feature on Reddit and combined it with the platform’s favourite content – AMA! So, even if every user was not an auto-maniac, millions of people tuned in to watch celebrities they love in fun, interesting situations.

3. Be human, don't be a brand

"Humanising a brand" has been a catchphrase for nearly two decades, but in the case of Reddit, it is literal – front your brand’s account with a human! It can be the CEO, the MD, a scientist, a designer, a developer, anything – someone who is interesting and represents an exciting vertical of the brand.

Users here would rather engage with an interesting and knowledgeable individual, even if he blatantly represents a brand, rather than a faceless commercial entity.

Elon Musk understood this very well. To promote the launch of the BFR rocket, SpaceX fronted CEO Elon Musk. Not only is Musk a chief officer who's extremely knowledgeable about his product, but he's also a major tech-industry thought leader. Rather than hosting an AMA on a SpaceX subreddit, he hosted it on the larger subreddit called r/space – leading to far higher engagement, and an appearance of prioritising engagement and knowledge over self-interest.

4. Chase your exact audience

We live in a world where targeting the RIGHT people is more important than targeting MORE people. Mass advertising is for TV. Broad segmentation is for Facebook.

Reddit is for targeting your precise target group – the exact group of crazy, passionate people who have the same passions as you, and are so willing to discuss it ad nauseum that they joined an online forum about it!

So don’t just go after the health conscious – go after the "vegan protein shake junkies". Don’t go after travel lovers – chase down "Northern Lights Fanatics". Don’t go after home bakers – find the "sourdough connoisseurs". Don’t go after ‘movie lovers’ – engage with ‘fans of DC Movies’. Actually, leave those guys alone. They are weird.

5. Optimise for Reddit

Reddit is unlike any other social media so it’s ridiculous to duplicate the Facebook banner ad and paste it into a page here! Reddit is unique so it helps to find unique ways to use it. Spotify, for instance, used it to source customer feedback from comments and replies, and in turn, create a unique campaign. The streaming platform asked started a simple campaign of asking questions about songs, and took all of the positive brand engagement and turned it into several Reddit-inspired playlists with over 10,000 songs!

More recently, Anheuser-Busch has started considering Reddit has an important avenue for conversations. With Michelob-Ultra, they reached out to marathoners in a spot for “Runners of Reddit”. Bud Light recreated their iconic “Men of Genius” to as “Internet Heroes of Genius” to specifically salute the helpful, cooperative Reddit users.

All in all, the past three weeks should have opened our eyes to the power of Reddit as a community. It is high time that we open our eyes to Reddit as an advertising platform as well.

The writer is Siddhant Lahiri, brand strategist and former senior planning director at Leo Burnett.