How Reddit put together that five-second Super Bowl commercial in less than a week


While watching the Super Bowl Sunday night, viewers in certain markets saw an eye-catching five-second ad from Reddit. “Wow, this actually worked,” text on the ad read. “If you’re reading this, our bet paid off.”

The ad, which ran in only certain markets, initially caused a bit of confusion. Many paused their broadcasts to read it more closely. Some apparently thought aliens were taking over their TV. 

“Big game spots are expensive, so we couldn’t buy a full one,” the company said in the ad. “But we were inspired and decided to spend our entire marketing budget on 5 seconds of airtime. One thing we learned from our communities last week is that underdogs can accomplish just about anything when they come together around a common idea.”

Reddit actually hadn’t decided to do a Super Bowl spot until a week ago, according to the company’s Chief Marketing Officer Roxy Young. But conversation about the site was hitting a fever pitch in recent weeks as Reddit was central to the recent market craze around Gamestop

“We started to see the velocity of conversation around Reddit, around our communities. And it was increasing significantly over the last few weeks…” Young told CNBC in an interview Monday. “It’s my responsibility as a marketer to think about these opportunities, and how we can use them as a springboard to extend our message and to share more about what we believe in as a platform.” 

But she wasn’t sure if the company would be able to do pull it off. 

“I think any marketer would ask themselves, is there an opportunity for us to be in this conversation when millions of people are tuning into a singular event?” she said. “And, to be honest, I thought about it, and I thought about it again, and I just didn’t think that we would be able to pull it off.” 

Young said the price tag for the typical Super Bowl spot, roughly $5.5 million for 30 seconds of airtime, was out of reach for the company. So Reddit worked with its agency, Interpublic Group‘s R/GA, to figure out whether it should do a shorter spot, or focus its efforts regionally instead of nationally. 

“Our creative partners at RGA had a fantastic idea to start inquiring about whether five seconds was possible,” Young said. “And luckily, we use RGA for both creative and media, so we have the whole in-house team working…  to find a solution and an opportunity. And where we landed was five seconds in nine of the top 10 regional markets.” 

Short ads can still pull a punch. Tide’s “It’s a Tide Ad” campaign in 2018 included a string of shorter-format ads throughout the game and landed the brand as a slot in one of the most-loved campaigns in recent history.

Young said the company was hoping to get in all 10 top regional markets, but that time in Houston had already sold out. The company ended up running the spot as a regional buy in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, D.C.

After making the call to do the ad last Monday, Young said the company and creative partners worked Tuesday and Wednesday to pull together the spot since the creative was due Thursday morning. 

“We were able to see something around people being really passionate about stocks and personal finance, and we knew what we wanted to say,” she said. “Once we once we nailed that, then the execution, the creative execution, was actually pretty straightforward: Those words on one single screen.”

Then, she said they spent Friday thinking about how they would bring the campaign to life on Reddit’s website. And though the ad got plenty of play internally on Reddit, the focus was also on speaking to non-Reddit users.

“Given that there was this increased velocity of people seeing and hearing about our brand, my first responsibility was to figure out how we can extend this out into a broader audience,” Young said. “And if people were hearing about Reddit, how can we connect some of those those dots? And I think in doing that, we had to be true to ourselves and who we are with our candid and brilliantly absurd tone… I think that by doing that, the creative style and tone, it also spoke to our existing communities. So hopefully it achieved both.” 

Reddit is a 15-year-old company but is still rather new to brand marketing. Young said the company has relatively small test budgets to try out a few different tactics, or it supmakes one big bet. She said the company will be looking at how much earned media coverage it gets, how people respond and how favorable it was perceived in determining whether it will make future plays like this. 

Though the team put together the ad in a short span of time, Young said the team wasn’t losing much sleep over it.

“We actually slept, and the reason why is we had such clarity about our message, and the power of our communities,” she said. “And, you know, we were seeing it in real life.”

Nominations are open for the 2021 CNBC Disruptor 50, a list of private start-ups using breakthrough technology to become the next generation of great public companies. Submit by Friday, Feb. 12, at 3 pm EST.

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