From stickers to the Super Bowl: We sit down with Reddit’s chief marketing officer

Roxy Young is Reddit's chief marketing officer.

She explains to Mumbrella how she managed to steer the company's marketing efforts from a bunch of stickers with the logo on to an inventive Super Bowl ad that set the internet alight.

You oversaw the first consumer marketing campaign at Reddit? How did it all come about?

I joined Reddit in 2017. And when I joined, there was no marketing organisation. All of the marketing, up to that point, had just been organic, word of mouth. I asked, ‘What marketing have we done’, and they, with a very straight face, said ‘stickers’.

So, when I stepped into the role, I started assessing the opportunities that we had to create a strong narrative, so that we could showcase the value of Reddit.

And so we built out our business marketing team focused on helping brands and businesses reach the right audiences and achieve their success on Reddit. And then, from a consumer perspective, we were focused on understanding recognition of the brand. relevance of the brand, and reputation of the brand.

And so, in 2020, Reddit was turning 15 years old. And we had worked on an RFP [request for proposal] to find an agency of record who could work with us to really bring to life our brand, as you mentioned, for the first time ever, and COVID hit.

So, we had to pivot a little bit, as all brands did in 2020. What we decided — instead of focusing on us, and talking about Reddit, and how wonderful it was — was that we would actually focus on our community, we would focus on the things that the power of community can achieve.

And that led to the Up The Vote campaign?

There was a very important election that was happening in the United States. And ‘up-voting’ is something that people do on Reddit; when they see something that they think contributes positively to that community, they upvote it as a signal of acknowledgement that this was a healthy contribution to the community. And so the Up the Vote campaign, basically compared voting on Reddit, with getting out and voting in real life. And so we made these clever comparisons of, you know, if you can vote for a cat on Reddit, you can vote in real life. And so that was one of the very first things that we ever did to really engage consumers and put our brand out there, in a big way.

Reddit communities like the exclusivity of it, and the insider-ish nature. Is that of concern when you’re marketing: the fact that those who use Reddit don’t want it to be marketed?

That’s actually what I thought when I joined Reddit. And then, when the marketing team was thinking and talking about how we take the magic of what is happening on Reddit, and bring that into the world.

But what we discovered was, when you represent communities authentically — really bring to life how they’re special and unique — they like it. They have an appreciation for seeing themselves reflected in bigger ways, externally.

Every time we run a campaign, we always source materials from our communities, we reach out to every single contributor whose contributions we want to showcase in a campaign, we get their permission, they know that they may see their contributions to Reddit utilised in a campaign, we let moderators know that their community may be featured.

I think that, so long as we’re transparent, and we let them know that, we love what’s happening in your community, we’d love to share more broadly, they’re open, and they’ve been receptive.

If you go about it in the right way — transparently — then I think that they have an appreciation for it.

Can you tell me about you Super Bowl commercial hack, where you got a bunch of five-second adverts aired during the game?

In early 2020, there was a lot of chatter on on Reddit, primarily in a community called Wall Street Bets. And that community is focused on high-stakes stock trading, and was focused on a particular stock called GameStop. And as the community started getting together and sharing that they were buying into GameStop, the price of the stock kept rising and rising and rising. And so, you know, I think we were all seeing the power of a community on Reddit to influence something in real life.

So, as a marketing team, we said, ‘Alright, this is a great opportunity to showcase the power of community, how can we do that in a way that is authentic?’ And so on. One Friday night, we sent around a note and said, ‘Hey, on Monday morning, let’s come together. And let’s be prepared to talk about some ideas where we can authentically showcase the power of community.’


On Monday morning, we got together, we reviewed several different ideas. And one of the ideas was a five-second Super Bowl ad. This was Monday, the Super Bowl was on Sunday. And so, the minute that we saw that, we said, ‘I think this is it. I think this is the right concept.’ 120 or 130 million people tune in to the Super Bowl. So, it’s massive reach.

And then we moved forward with trying to figure out how could we execute this; we only have a few days.

The creative team and I sat down, and we just put our feelings on paper about what was happening. It was really a manifesto to the community, and the power of community. And the media buying team went out and tried to figure out how could we execute the buy — everything was already sold out, this is the type of event that gets sold months in advance.

They found a clever way, to not do a national buy, but to do regional buys. They said, we can buy in 13 of the most relevant markets. And so we took the creative — which was ten sentences just highlighting the power of community — and the media team went and executed all the regional buys.

We turned in the creative, we signed the check for the media, and we turned all that in on Thursday. Sunday was the Super Bowl.

Because we bought the ads regionally, it meant that it would air at a different time in every single region. So what ended up happening was what I’ve called ‘the popcorn effect’.

It was like popcorn: the first ad went out in Philadelphia, the second ad went out in Chicago, and there was a lot of chatter on social media about, ‘Did you see the Reddit ad?’, ‘I think it was on TV, I think I just saw it’. And so, people were taking pictures of their televisions.

We were still in COVID, and people were at home, watching it, and they were pausing their screens. And so, by the end of the night, it was one of the most searched terms on Google, because people were trying to figure out what was happening with Reddit and the Reddit campaign.

I think in hindsight, the lessons learned are: when you have a really strong instinct, and a really strong message, don’t be afraid to do something bold.

Finally, what nascent trends, or trends that haven’t even emerged yet, do you really see accelerating over the next five years in terms of marketing? 

I’ve been in the business for over 20 years. When I started, there was no social media; there was no way for brands to engage with their consumers directly. As social media has come and has crested, and it’s now maturing, I think one of the things that we are on the precipice of is this craving and appreciation for authenticity, in terms of how brands engage with their consumers.

I think they want to participate in in the journey, they want to connect and co-create, with brands. We’ve been calling it community marketing, you really need to build a community around your product, and invite consumers — the ones that use you, and the ones that hope to use your product or service — invite them in to the conversation, invite them into the process.

That means you’ll have to let go of some of the control that you have, or part of your marketing mix needs to involve a community element, where people can engage with you in a more authentic way.

So, I think we’re at the precipice of that community marketing trend that I think will continue.

We see it every day on Reddit, people are talking about brands, talking about products, and we’re helping brands and businesses navigate that successfully on Reddit.


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