Why Reddit Is Betting On Original Content

A Move to Reach Marketers in a Tech-Savvy Community

By Published on .

The "80s cliché is that video killed the radio star. Now it's quickly killing other priorities as a growing number of media concerns put greater focus on original programming, all in a quest for higher CPMs. Some are new players.

Reddit turned 'Explain Like I'm Five' into a video series.
Reddit turned 'Explain Like I'm Five' into a video series.

Consider Reddit, for example.

Nearly two years after its split from Condé Nast -- in 2011, it became an independent subsidiary of Condé's parent company, Advance Publications -- Reddit is now making a concerted effort to court top brand-name consumer advertisers by weaving them into original video programming. This comes as it aims to broaden its appeal beyond its huge core tech-savvy community.

The sell for marketers is that they now have a more friendly way to partner with the site to reach and engage a highly coveted young demographic. This audience can be tough to captivate through other means.

As a digital native and a scrappy outfit with only 25 employees, Reddit is attacking the space with a level of digital sensibilities that many others may not have -- at least in abundance.

In March it started to turn some of its more popular subreddit verticals into dedicated shows. The first such effort -- "Explain Like I'm Five" -- launched in partnership with DonorsChoose as a proof of concept, according to Reddit General Manager Erik Martin. The series takes complex topics like the war in Syria and stock-market swings and explains them to 5-year-olds. The effort aimed to encourage the Reddit community to donate to the educational nonprofit.

Next up: an attempt to bring the popular "Crazy Ideas" subreddit to life. An animated series will focus on a gym called "Resolutions" that for the month of January is a gym, but the rest of the year is a bar. The series has not secured a sponsor yet.

Reddit is now looking across its vast network of subreddits for communities that want to see similar ideas brought to life. And Martin said he is open to taking pitches from advertisers.

The company has plenty of subreddits to explore monetizing. Since 2009 it has run a self-serve advertising platform that marketers are using to syndicate sponsored headlines. The marketers that are having the greatest success, Martin says, are giving away product or running promotions -- and then participating in the conversation. Earlier this month Cottonelle, for example, gave away 5,000 flush wipes to redditors.

It's still unknown whether a site like Reddit can make the leap into original programming -- and do so credibly, particularly as it balances courting mainstream advertisers while remaining what it is. However, there are some lessons here for others that are hoping to do the same.

First, rather than come up with new concepts, Reddit is simply expanding proven, yet niche franchises that have already found an audience. If we've learned anything about the internet it's that what works best is micro-niches that appeal to a select, but avid few rather than a mass passive many.

Second, Reddit is staying true to itself. The internet isn't TV and Reddit knows that and has an approach to original content that might just work if it can stick to what made it a success. Reddit knows that the best way for marketers to get involved is not just through content, but conversation.

And it's encouraging brands to adopt this ethos.

Steve Rubel is chief content strategist at Edelman.

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