Reddit’s Pitch to Brands in the Age of Coronavirus: Listen, Then Do

The platform is thinking about the 'culture of quarantine'

Reddit's advice to brands is listen before making any sudden moves. Getty Images
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Reddit fancies itself as a “quarantine brand … providing community and connection while people are in isolation at their own homes.”

But perhaps the king of the quarantine brands is Netflix, which recently posted to the r/netflix subreddit with a little toss-up to its fans: “Hi Reddit, it’s us – Netflix! Tell us what you’re into and what country you’re in and we’ll give you something to watch!” (Netflix’s offerings are different from country to country due to licensing.)

“They created one unified conversation where people can feel connected despite the subtle differences in their experience,” according to Will Cady, Reddit’s head of brand strategy. And naturally Netflix’s hit show Tiger King surfaced.

“I’m in the United States,” user duh_metrius posted. “Particularly interested in stories of homosexual gun advocates who keep large cats on their property and feud with animal rights activists, possibly resorting to murder for hire.”

“We don’t have any shows like that sorry,” Netflix replied. “That is far too ridiculous, frankly no one would believe a premise like that would even be remotely possible. You ask too much.” Reddit users responded well, giving the comment 3,000 points, and the original post over 20,000 upvotes and a slew of awards.

Cady said the streaming service’s tone was spot-on.

“The way that they engaged was really very much in the language of the Community of how people connected,” he said. “They really experienced quarantine with their customers.”

In normal times, Reddit can be a tough place for brands. Its users are notoriously tough to please, brutally honest and unrelentingly skeptical of corporate attempts at fitting in. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, when companies in every industry are reevaluating how they market themselves, Reddit is trying to assure brands that—if they follow the right playbook—they can succeed on the platform.

Reddit’s pitch today to brands echoes its pitch over the last decade: Listen before making any sudden moves.

“Reddit is one of the best resources for brands to find out what people really think and feel now,” Cady said, gently reframing the platform’s reputation for raw and unfiltered conversations that may not align with preconceptions of brand safety.

If listening to users about what they think and how they feel—about a product, about a brand, about their wants and needs—was important before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted global society and threw the advertising world into a tailspin, it’s even more important now.

“The entire advertising industry has taken a pause, and that’s a really good thing,” Cady said. “People are expressing their needs, and eventually something will surface and you’ll realize, oh, my brand can do that. LVMH creating hand sanitizer after the insight that hand sanitizers were selling out everywhere. That’s an opportunity for a brand to step in and actually create value, but it did not reveal itself right away.”

Jess Richards, global head of social at Havas Media, an agency that works with clients including Disney, Emirates and Michelin, said “people are seeking either comfort, distraction or seeking information/news updates” in Reddit.

“In simpler times, we were seeing brands approach Reddit in a few different ways: sponsoring specific topics, setting up discussion boards or surrounding Reddits related to entertainment/programming for a 360 approach to content alignment,” Richards said. “In the current era of COVID, brands should be taking pause to ensure their marketing or messaging is right, for any platform they are working with.”

Reddit sees itself as a “community platform” and recommends that companies tune in to what individual communities, called subreddits, are feeling before advertising or engaging organically.

“When you’re entering a community, what you need to do first and foremost is listen and gain an understanding of what people are experiencing, and from that you can find a way that you can have a value and then that’s when you make your contribution,” Cady said. “The key, especially in a moment like this, is you either create value or create space for those who can.” Cady said brands such as Jameson and Miller Lite are doing the latter by “fundraising for the restaurant and bar workers who aren’t able to earn an income.”

Netflix’s post engaging fans was organic, not paid—though Netflix had other ad buys on the Reddit platform at the same time.

Nextflix declined a request for comment for this story.

@ScottNover Scott Nover is a platforms reporter at Adweek, covering social media companies and their influence.