An interactive game that arrived on Reddit Tuesday is actually an elaborate ad for a robot maker called Anki.
The game, "Lost in Reddit," is designed to promote Cozmo, a Pixar-inspired, $180 creation that can play games, learn faces, express emotions and even has an attitude, according to Craig Rechenmacher, chief marketing officer at Anki. The game puts Cozmo in a three-dimensional representation of Reddit with rooms that mimic subreddits. Reddit users' role is to help Cozmo complete challenges so it can move on to the next room.
The team at W&K Lodge, the technology group within Wieden & Kennedy that worked on the Anki game, wanted the campaign to capture Cozmo's personality.
"It builds a relationship with you when you play with one," says Paolo Ribeiro, managing director at W&K Lodge. "That was part of the challenge."
Reddit has participated in other collaborative experiences. Every April Fools Day, for instance, the Reddit team rolls out participatory experiments such as Place, which this year let users drop one colored pixel on a digital canvas every five minutes. That forced people to collaborate if they were going to create anything but visual noise.
"Place was a jumping off point for us in brainstorming," says Joe Federer, senior brand strategist at Reddit, discussing how the Cozmo game came about. "The users dictate where Cozmo goes and what challenges he will solve. It takes community effort to solve this 'escape room' scenario."
Federer is part of Reddit's a five-person brand strategy team, which is tasked with finding ways to tap into Reddit's advertising potential. The site has 330 million unique visitors a month, according to Reddit, and is a growing force in the culture of the internet. But it's daunting for brands because it's easy to end up on the wrong side of the crowd. Just this week, Electronic Arts became the latest marketer to go down in flames on Reddit, where users have eviscerated the game maker over the payment structure in "Star Wars: Battlefront II." It cost $80 to buy the game, but then gamers complained that they were basically forced to spend money inside the game to advance.
Electronic Arts tried to respond to its critics on Reddit; its statement there became the most downvoted post of all time.
Many people on Reddit are also critical of any marketing, with forums devoted to calling out paid intruders.
Cozmo tackles the latter issue head-on. It starts its journey in a room modeled after "Hail Corporate," an infamous subreddit that bashes businesses that try to sneak marketing into Reddit.
"Why avoid the thing we know is coming," Ribeiro says. "We'll just go right into it. ... There's 10 years of culture built in Reddit communities. You need to find that authentic, user level experience to integrate well."