That’s some highly sensitive stuff, and Reddit has it all under lock and key, according to Avery. Reddit, he said, is the firm’s “most privacy-conscious customer.”
“Reddit’s really focused on making sure that if a user on Reddit is sharing personal information, or has an anonymous login, that data isn’t leaked out to potential advertisers, ad networks or even us,” Avery said.
Furthermore, Reddit does not allow any third-party data tracking, and advertisers don’t have access to user-level data or targeting.
So unlike Facebook – where one can buy large segments of consumers who like, say, Ford trucks – Reddit really isn’t much of a scale play. Brands that want to buy at scale on the platform have to bring their own data to do so.
“That’s something Reddit doesn’t inherently offer,” Avery said. “They offer scale but they don’t want to retarget users.”
The easiest way to target on Reddit is to buy inventory on a subreddit, a section of the greater Reddit site devoted to a certain niche – like “MaleFashionAdvice” or “MakeupAddiction.”
This is not as easy as it sounds, said Evan Levy, senior advertising manager for digital marketing agency Method Savvy, which ran a campaign on Reddit in May for its client Stanley Gibbons, a brand that sells collectible stamps. After discovering a subreddit devoted to philately, Levy saw tremendous opportunity to reach an audience difficult to find on open exchanges
“It’s relatively difficult to go into a display vendor or a DSP and say, ‘Find me all the philatelists on the Internet,’” he said. “Reddit was a gold mine in terms of an audience for us.”
But when Method Savvy got into the Reddit ad ecosystem, Levy said they ran into trouble immediately. With budget constraints and a one-month timeline, the agency was limited to the self-serve platform.
“We built the campaign only to find that the inventory for the entire month in our target subreddit was sold out,” Levy said. “There was no indication of that earlier in the sales process and no indication that would even be an issue.”
Method Savvy moved the campaign to other subreddits related to collectibles, but ran into more problems when running campaign diagnostics.
“Getting any sort of manageable data out of the Reddit ads platform from the self-serve side is an absolute nightmare,” Levy said.
For instance, if advertisers wanted to serve an ad to multiple audiences, they have to build individual units that each report separately. In other words, there’s no aggregate view in Reddit’s self-serve offering.
“Pulling this kind of information for reporting was such a ridiculous burden that we weren’t that interested in running another campaign, because we couldn’t get the audience we wanted and the reporting system was beyond frustrating,” Levy said.
Essentially, the Reddit audience can be great, especially for advertisers that want to reach hard-to-find segments. But the ad platform itself, according to Levy, “leaves much to be desired.”
Because of these hurdles, advertisers tend to take a different approach to marketing on Reddit. They often create user handles and interact directly with consumers in threads – sometimes transparently and other times not (which risks raising the ire of Reddit users). For instance, the CEO of men’s footwear brand Allen Edmonds interacts with the users of MaleFashionAdvice. And a Pornhub spokeswoman interacts with Reddit users across a number of subreddits.
But not all brands are as transparent with their marketing strategies on Reddit, and some masquerade as normal users to covertly promote a brand message. (Levy said Method Savvy hasn’t done this but he has heard that “a great number of companies do both these things.”)
So what’s next for Reddit? Condé Nast parent Advance Publications is a majority stakeholder, and it’s under pressure to grow audience and make money, especially since it raised $50 million in venture capital funding last October.
Certainly making its ad products more accessible is a priority – even if its data assets won’t be in play. The platform has beta advertisers running through private marketplace and programmatic guaranteed deals.
Reddit’s spokeswoman added that these offerings aren’t core to its current ad sales business. Programmatic, she said, is essentially an option for brands and agencies that prefer to use it.
And the advertisers working in those early-stage private marketplaces are still boxed out from Reddit user data.
And whether or not advertisers flock to Reddit ultimately hinges on whether its users continue to flock there as well.
“Smart brands aren’t tied to any platforms; smart brands are trying to find their audience wherever they may be,” Levy said. “If you see a windfall of users evaporate from the system, I don’t foresee brands being that interested in the platform. If you see similar levels of engagement, interest and actually people on the site, I definitely think there’s opportunity in the future for further investment.”