Reddit says ‘brand safety isn’t an issue our customers have’ but ad buyers aren't so sure

Jandali was explicit that the ad eligible part of Reddit is “a hand-curated, human reviewed network” / Reddit

Reddit is on a crusade to capture advertisers’ budgets, but first of all it has to convince them that the self-proclaimed ‘front page of the internet’ is a brand-safe environment.

The platform’s vice-president of brand partnerships, Zubair Jandali, suggested Reddit doesn’t have a misplacement problem, so much as a perception one.

“Brand safety is not a concern that any one of our customers has,” the ex-Google exec told The Drum.

“It’s always prior to any interaction with us that [advertisers] express that as something they care about, but once they’ve worked with us for the first time their full attention is on the opportunity, not the perceived risk.”

It has slowly been winning big budget brand around, including Coca-Cola, P&G and Audi.

Jandali’s “first pitch” when he joined Reddit in 2015 was to Coke, which at the time refused to advertise on the platform over misplacement concerns. However, the soda giant has since come to run several campaigns on the site since that initial rebuttal.

Reddit is fresh from a redesign implemented to make the experience better for users and advertisers alike.

Over the past few years it has also “rewritten” its advertising offering; allowing brands to pay for promoted posts (which include its popular 'Ask Me Anything' threads, or AMAs), programmatic space and native video ads, along with access to its 80-person partnerships team or its small but growing strong internal creative agency.

“We think of brand safety as being inexorably linked to relevance and because we have context in every community we are just very deliberate about where we are targeting a campaign,” explained Jandali.

To do this, Reddit operates an “opt-in” system, where – along with the brands paying for the space – it signs off which subreddits (the site’s member-founded-and-moderated communities) ads should appear on or adjacent to.

Jandali was explicit that the ad eligible part of Reddit is “a hand-curated, human reviewed network” that is effectively a subsection of the main site. Reddit comprises 1.2 million active communities covering everything from cosmetics to gardening, cars to gaming and 130,000 of these communities are hobby-based.

As Reddit tries to further scale its ad business and woo brands with access to a potential 330 million users, however, the issue is getting clients to overcome the prospect of that “risk” Jandali speaks of.

Instead, the company wants them to see the value in its “unduplicated” reach. According to ComScore 81% of Reddit’s US users aren’t on Instagram and 51% don’t have a Twitter account.

With the shadow of YouTube’s brand safety crisis – where ads for Cornflakes had the potential to be served adjacent to Isis recruitment videos – still looming large over the industry, Marc Goldberg, chief executive of brand safety planning firm Trust Metrics, said most brands still see UGC buys as a gamble.

"If you believe Reddit is 100% brand safe, then you haven’t been on Reddit,” he suggested.

When it comes to courting ad dollars, Reddit’s perception issue lies in the fact that it has been a bastion of free speech since its conception – something that’s made it attractive to some users but maybe not so much to advertisers.

For all their missteps, Facebook, YouTube and even Twitter are certainly more active at policing content that Reddit, with the site’s admins having been famously been reluctant to remove offensive content unless it harassed individuals or was illegal.

Like its rivals, Reddit too faces the issue of whether to play editor or leave damaging content to fester.

In 2015 and at the end of 2017 moderators did purge some of the platform’s more toxic subreddits including ‘Nazi’, ‘Cute Female Corpses’, ‘Fat People Hate’ and most recently anti-women group ‘Incels’.

But in spite of this, it’s clear the bounds of propriety still remain fairly wide: for instance in the ‘Pussy Pass Denied’ subreddit, misogyny often bubbles to the surface under the guise of highlighting gender inequality; while over in Trump-centric community ‘The Donald’ users have been accused of directly participating in the organising of events like the Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacist rally. Recently, it's chief executive Steve Huffman said racism was allowed on the platform.

For now, there's no ad space available on the aforementioned subreddits, but whether brands want to attach themselves to a platform that doesn't actively remove this type of content is another issue altogether.

Bav Panchal, senior client partner at WPP media agency Wavemaker said UGC platforms like Reddit do still carry a "significant digital reputational risk" that agencies have to help advertisers navigate.

"However, with verification tools specifically brand safety, keyword and category exclusions in place, a platform such as Reddit can certainly give brands both reach and visibility – this is an ongoing and critical conversation we have with all our clients."

Jandali confirmed to The Drum that Reddit does have a few automated tools to help brands filter out unsavoury responses to promoted posts they run on subreddits.

One of them, AutoMod, lets moderators highlight a set of keywords that "neutralise" user engagements containing content the brand doesn't want to be seen against. In addition, Jandali said Reddit's brand partnerships team acts as sherpas for brands and clients, working with them to pipoint the most appropriate location for the communities and users they are targeting.

What brands are missing out on by not including Reddit on their media plan is a young and engaged audience with a demographic that's 79% 18 to 34-year-olds.

Some of Reddit's chiefly millennial audience do seem to overwhelmingly hate marketing, with subreddits like 'Hail Corporate' and 'Hey Fellow Kids' dedicated to mocking advertisers. Jandali said the platform is towing the line between keeping users happy by getting involved in the creative process to make sure content was always relevant.

"When brands are cultivating conversation, rather than just shouting with a megaphone, they stand to cultivate brand equity or brand karma," he added.

He's also confident that the performance brands are seeing on Reddit will go some way in helping it overcome any misplacement misconceptions.

For instance, Audi's 'Think Faster' Reddit series, which featured stars like Elizabeth Banks answering questions AMA-style while driving a sports car, clocked up as many as 3 million views in an episode as well as over 4000 comments.

He likened Reddit's trajectory to Snapchat's, saying that in 2013 you couldn't read an article in the advertising press "without the term sexting".

"Then in 2015 Evan Speigal graced the cover of AdWeek – a splashy thing about him at Cannes," he added.

"So a lot of this brand safety chatter is a misconstrual of platform maturity and performance. As Reddit matures and as we unlock performance on a brand-by-brand basis I think [advertisers] will [stop] focusing on preconceptions about what it represents, and think about what [they're] missing out on by not engaging with us."

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