At SXSW, Reddit's Alexis Ohanian Teaches Brand Survival, and Prefers The_Brendan to The_Donald

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Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian says people check out ads on the site for minutes, not seconds.
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian says people check out ads on the site for minutes, not seconds. Credit: reddit

In an era of all-out brand warfare online, Reddit is a good place to get battle-hardened.

Reddit, the online community of communities dedicated to every fandom and fetish, can be an unforgiving place for marketers, but it also can be a training ground for the inevitable digital scraps that marketers could encounter anywhere.

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian was at SXSW in Austin to discuss how people and brands can find some sense of authenticity, a must for any marketer presenting itself to a jaded, cynical audience.

Mr. Ohanian stood still for 10 minutes following his talk at the festival to lend his thoughts on how brands can win Reddit, how Reddit can win the internet, and who he likes more, Brendan Frasier or President Trump. Here's the edited transcript.

What do you tell brands that may be scared of diving into the unfiltered waters of Reddit, where users can be known to cause headaches for them?

The last two years have been really fruitful for us. We've had brands from Coca-Cola to Toyota, massive multinationals, really win, do very well. Part of what's changed is we now have an in-house creative team that basically helps brands be more self-aware, and that helps not just on Reddit but everywhere.

We actually figured out that ads on Reddit are basically a conversation. One that's paid for by the sponsor. When we are upfront with our users, we are telling them, "This is an ad from Toyota, it's about 'blank.' Or here's a commercial: Tell us your best lumberjack joke." Brands are not coming just for ads, they're coming for the conversation.

We have engagement in minutes, not seconds, with our ads.

What about when the conversation gets away from brands?

We have conversations pretty regularly with brands that, maybe not even on Reddit but somewhere on social media, have felt that sting. If you want to be a successful company in 2017, if you're on the right platform, you can actually intervene and engage, and that's the advantage we have. There are good and bad things being said all the time about your brand, but here you can step in and get the word out, and have it reach the right audience you want to influence.

You're engaged to Serena Williams. Did you have to teach her how to use Reddit?

This was a good lesson. She was not a Redditor when we first met and I'll never forget one of the first things she asked me was why is there no app. And I was like, "Touché." So that's something she showed me.

Anything else she illuminated for you about the platform?

Well, the fact that there was not a scalable set-up process. I had to go in and subscribe and unsubscribe communities for her based on stuff I knew she liked or asked her about. That gets into new-user onboarding. The fact that it takes me to sit down with the user to set up, that's something software should do. We have to get smart about showing you stuff you're going to like.

OK, now to get real. If you had to choose one subreddit community to join, which would you pick: The_Brendan, dedicated to worship of Brendan Fraser, or The_Donald, dedicated to worship of President Donald Trump?

OK, wait, "The Brendan" is the one that worships Brendan Fraser, is that it? I honestly haven't looked at that subreddit. I've actually only known it as a punchline. And I don't love Brendan Fraser as an actor, but I think that would be the one. If I had to choose between the two, which one would be my favorite, I think it would be The_Brendan. I think that's pretty straightforward.

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