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From internet bad boy to next-door neighbor: Reddit makes a play for mainstream America

Reddit’s new ad campaign is a total departure from its quirky Super Bowl spot.

From internet bad boy to next-door neighbor: Reddit makes a play for mainstream America
[Illustration: FC]

Reddit won the Super Bowl earlier this year with a quirky and cool five-second ad that managed to both raise awareness for its communities and stoke the excitement of its core fanbase of internet culture nerds.

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This week, the platform launched a new ad campaign that ditches the quirk in favor of a more broadly appealing (read: generic) approach to remind people it has more to offer than the latest meme stock advice.

“Maybe together we’ll,” created by agency R/GA, steers the spotlight away from GameStop, AMC, and BlackBerry, and on to a few of the other 100,000 communities that it’s home to. Fun things. Nice things. Things like gardening, cooking, and running. Reddit has always billed itself as “the front page of the internet,” and here it’s aiming to make sure you know it’s got whatever you might be looking for.

Reddit CMO Roxy Young said in a statement that this year more than ever, the world has seen the power of online communities to drive real-world action, and that the new campaign is “a celebration of this spirit and an opportunity for us to showcase the communities, users, conversations, and shared experiences that make Reddit such a special place.”

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It’s an understandable approach for the social media brand. While it still significantly trails its social competitors like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snap in users and advertising revenue, Reddit’s brand is incredibly strong. In 2021 alone, it’s managed to be at the forefront of the ongoing meme stock phenomenon and dominate Super Bowl conversations.

Of the bajillions of ads confronting our eyeballs every single day, the Super Bowl is the one time people actually look forward watching and discussing commercials. Major advertisers spend tens of millions of dollars to not only sell more products (natch) but to carve their logo into the zeitgeist. Which makes it all the more amazing that Reddit managed to win the most social chatter and post-game media coverage with a five-second regional ad. It starts with what first looks like a standard car commercial before glitching to a very Technical Difficulties-looking static message that leans heavily on the platform’s collective power, “one thing we learned from our communities last week is that underdogs can accomplish just about anything when they come together around a common idea.”

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Not only did the brand figure out an eccentric and attention-getting way to reference its IRL cultural impact, but did so in a way that stayed true to its image. You don’t align yourself with underdogs by spending $5.5 million on a lavish 30-second Super Bowl ad. But a quick ‘n’ dirty spot that subverts viewers’ expectations will definitely do the trick. That’s what makes this new ad so jarringly . . . normal. Sure, it jokes about Dogecoin groups and giraffe conspiracy theories, but really it’s hyping more mainstream topics.

That hype comes after Reddit’s checkered history as a safe platform, with an early reputation as a gathering place for extreme views and dangerous content often associated with racists and harassment. It’s a reputation that has long scared off more mainstream users and advertisers. In recent years, however, the company has made moves to clean up that image, taking a more active role in banning controversial content. Last summer the platform banned thousands of forums (called subreddits) for hate speech. And in January, after the Capitol attacks, Reddit banned a subreddit dedicated to promoting and celebrating Donald Trump, after its users promoted and incited the violence.

These moves have happened at the same time that that platform is seeing tremendous growth. In October 2020, Reddit reported that it averaged 52 million daily active users, a 44% year-over-year increase. Also last October, Emarketer reported it expected Reddit’s ad revenue to go from $212.5 million in 2021 to $289.9 million in 2022. Last December, Reddit told Ad Age it expected to hit $1 billion in annual revenue within the next three years. And last month, the company launched a new, in-house creative agency called KarmaLab, to help brands like Snickers and Samsung create custom-built campaigns for the platform.

[Image: Reddit]
Emarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson says Reddit is the second fastest growing social platform in the U.S. after TikTok, growing users by 26% over the last year. After gaining notoriety with the meme stocks, it’s clearly something the brand is looking to capitalize on. “[They want] to make sure that people are aware that, not only is Reddit a place for niche communities or meme stocks, but no matter what you’re interested in there’s probably a place for you there,” says Williamson. “There are a lot of people who wouldn’t think of the platform in that way.”

Williamson says perhaps the most striking aspect of the new ad is how visually it portrays the platform. “If you think about Reddit, the traditional perception is that of a forum where people post comments,” she says. “Something very text-based. But clearly this campaign is designed to show Reddit as a vibrant community full of action and imagery and video. All things that are pretty to look at, not just read. That’s a strong positioning as a visual platform.” The new campaign launches in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Toronto, and will appear in high-profile outdoor placements including billboards, transit shelters, and street postings, as well as digital and TV, with plans to expand to the U.K. later in the year.

R/GA vice president and executive creative director Bryan Gregg says the company’s biggest brand challenge is getting people to understand the sheer scope of Reddit. “A lot of times people will hear about a certain community first—like r/wallstreetbets—and instantly think, ‘well I’m not into day trading, so this website isn’t for me,'” he said in an email. “[This campaign] starts to expose people to the thousands of other equally passionate communities on Reddit. We want people to know that, from stonks to skincare, there is a community for the things you care about.”

Still, Reddit’s new ad is also surprising in just how much it feels like it could be an ad for Facebook Groups. For Super Bowl 2020, Facebook’s ad was a celebration of everyday people from an eclectic collection of Groups, from a Moab rock climbers group, to a craft cocktail club, and an experimental rocketry group. Sound familiar?

And just last month, Discord, another cult-favorite social network, pitched itself to the mainstream with a campaign called “Imagine A Place.” Founded six years ago, Discord now has more than 150 million active monthly users and has gone from a niche platform for gamers, to a place where people want to discuss everything from local politics to gardening. CMO Tesa Aragones told Fast Company at the time that there’s a huge opportunity for the brand to grow its user base. “You’re going to see our media in different places, and we want to celebrate our users and continue to invite more people in,” she said. “Part of this campaign is showing people what we’re all about and the type of experience they can have on our platform.”

Reddit has the advantage of exposure through all the meme stock media coverage—being a part of a cultural moment like GameStop will do that. So swinging for the fences makes perfect sense. The Super Bowl ad proved it could lean into its quirkier instincts and still make mainstream marketing. However, if all of these community-focused social ads start to blend together, the brand risks losing the culture that helped forge its rise in the first place.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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