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Discord Social Media Media Planning and Buying

What brands need to know before trying to activate on ad-free Discord

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By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

April 20, 2023 | 7 min read

We talk to agencies touting dedicated Discord advertising products and discover how they’re helping brands get in on the action.

Discord

Brands are finding some joy operating on Discord

Founded in 2015, the voice, video and text communication service Discord was once the domain of gamers. Now, more than 78% of its 250 million monthly active users say they don’t use it for gaming purposes at all, but instead go there to hang out and talk with their friends and communities about all manner of interests in a UI somewhere between Reddit and Slack.

With its recent broader purpose, brands have been trying to work out how to operate there, be it from a community perspective, for advertising reach, or even for product testing and feedback.

There are no native advertising tools on Discord, so it’s not a case of moving Instagram spend and creative to a new platform. Early movers are having to pioneer an approach.

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How brands can activate on Discord

There are several ways brands can get involved on Discord, but generally, it involves either creating communities or interacting with existing ones.

Logan Jory is the founder of Wildfire, a company touting a neat Discord server growth tech. He says that while a YouTube creator has many monetization options, the people running Discord communities have relatively few. It’s like the early days of influencer marketing, he tells us. “They’re trusted and call the shots, but they aren’t monetizing. There are clear parallels with 2015 social media influencers.”

Jory says the vision for Wildfire is to use Discord in ways that can’t be done elsewhere. “So producing bespoke content we know will convert in certain communities, assigning roles for people that convert, running live stages, events and games with brand ambassadors.”

Community partnership Discord

Jory’s agency is offering two Discord advertising products. The first is broadcasts, using its bots to run personalized sponsored recommendations to users. He says it is important that these are relevant to the server they are pinging and that they function much like a programmatic ad. “Anything that’s not well-integrated will be rejected. Discord requires a very careful touch as it’s not exactly an ‘ads friendly’ environment.”

And then there’s branded content, which often involves the community team in the ideation, creation and distribution of the work. “We can run sponsored emojis, live events and games with brand-sponsored prizes. And we can create educational channels about brands. There’s a lot of potential for creativity to truly involve a community with a campaign: something Gen Z on Discord demand versus being broadcast to.”

Brands can offer product exclusivity, discounts and access, but need to be aware that users are “more skeptical of inauthenticity,” he says. “On Discord, you can’t just broadcast one way and expect a good reaction.”

Right now, there are limited brands activating on Discord, and the ones that are have dipped their toes into web3, such as Samsung, Porsche, Time, Nickelodeon and Adidas, as well as games publishers which have their own servers. It’s best suited to “brands that make community core to their marketing,” he says. Adidas, he points out, sees it as a space to create and build with.

Meanwhile, Nikhil Roy, co-founder and creative director at Swipe Back, is running a dedicated Discord offering for brands. So far, he says, it is working with fashion company Kenzo “on various projects from Discord strategy and management, to NFT activations in-store, to amplifying real-life shows and content production.” He says it has more than 5,200 members and, at the time of publishing, 200-odd were online.

The main responsibility is in managing the Discord server and “creating a real relationship with their NFT holders,” he says, and he urges brands to “embrace the horizontal nature of Discord.” It can be “challenging but rewarding” to engage with users on the platform.

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Gucci vault

Roy sees Gucci’s presence on the app – as well as in gaming and web3 – as particularly noteworthy. It’s a space for “any brand that has a passion point they can build upon,” he says. “Car manufacturers could create something really exciting about the automotive world, fashion brands can share knowledge and style tips and have it done in a very interactive and open way, streaming services can capture all the conversations around movie and series... It’s a place where ambassadors can be honed and passions built on.”

As Dan Jackson, senior creative producer at digital marketing company Jellyfish, previously told The Drum: “If you’re there just for the flash-in-the-pan instant moment, then you’re probably not in the right space. You need to have something to say... or an ethos about your company... it’s worth looking into.”

Sign up to my Weekly Media Agency briefing here for a regular steer through the biggest questions facing the industry.

Discord Social Media Media Planning and Buying

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