What Happens When a Movie Marketer Gets Caught Trying to Game Reddit [UPDATED]

Hint: It's Not Pretty

By Published on .

[UPDATE: Reddit has updated its post to say that,

After further investigation, we have found that neither Warner Bros. nor any of their employees was involved in this activity. To be perfectly clear, the posts that we detected came from a third party who had no affiliation with Warner Bros. This third party was not part of the marketing efforts of Warner Bros for the film.

We regret confusion about the source of these posts, and appreciate the cooperation and understanding of Warner Bros who has taken this as seriously as we do and has very strict policies on these matters.

Warner Bros. also reached out to Ad Age with this statement: "We absolutely do not do business that way as part of our film marketing. We are looking into this allegation as we take it very seriously."

I've reached out to Reddit to ask where their internal investigation went wrong and how it led to them incorrectly conclude that Warner Bros. was involved in spamming Reddit. I'll update this post again when I hear back.]

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Reddit's logo-slash-mascot
Reddit's logo-slash-mascot

Reddit, as I wrote back in May, is one of the most powerful forces on the internet -- a place where memes are born, a crib sheet for the mainstream media (especially Gawker and BuzzFeed) and a generator of massive amounts of traffic for sites that are lucky enough to capture the imagination of the Reddit community (such that it is).

But when marketers push their luck by attempting to manipulate Reddit -- by, for instance, planting posts and links and generating fake conversations about their offerings in an attempt to pique the interest of real Redditors -- it seldom ends well.

Last night just after midnight, a scold-y post titled "Don't try to cheat reddit: An after action report on a movie studio attempting to game reddit" hit the homepage of the site. (Posts on Reddit gain or lose momentum through an upvote/downvote system.) It amounted to, basically, Reddit bitch-slapping Warner Bros. for a hapless attempt at promoting its new thriller "Getaway," which opens tomorrow.

In it, Reddit General Manager Erik Martin (who uses the username hueypriest on the site) wrote,

We take spamming, cheating, vote-rigging, and any other manipulation of reddit very seriously. We have always promised you that if we catch companies trying to game reddit we will call them out and let you know. The most common type of spamming/gaming/vote manipulation on reddit is by publishers who are attempting to increase traffic to their domain. We are able to ban domains and make the reason public in the ban message. In the case of a movie studio or other company attempting to game reddit, we don't have a similar automatic way of alerting users, so I am coming here today to let you know about a transparency issue with a studio that we have already taken care of.

Martin then went on to praise the mods -- moderators -- who spotted "suspicious postings and comments related to the movie Getaway." An internal investigation (which Martin didn't detail, but which presumably involved matching the IP addresses of faux "Getaway" commenters on Reddit with known Warner Bros. IP addresses) led to Reddit determining that,

...this activity did indeed come from Warner Brothers employees, the studio for the film. The posts and comments were essentially ineffective and were actually all heavily downvoted. All accounts involved have been banned and we have spoken with Warner Brothers and let them know this is unacceptable. This appears to be just a few employees and not some company wide or systematic thing.

In the comments below Martin's post, the Reddit moderator who goes by mi-16evil got credit and praise for intially spotting Warner Bros.' spam -- and then he or she offered the studio a second bitch-slap for good measure:

Honestly it was a really sad discovery. It was just robots talking to other robots. I don't think I saw a comment from a real person on any of the posts. The whole thing reminded me of this great Onion video.

What followed was a link to this 2012 "Onion Talks" classic:

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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