Reddit’s big Super Bowl gamble

What does the social network stand to gain from spending on the big game?

It was once said (by Harold Wilson, if you’re checking) that a week is a long time in politics. Well, in today’s nano-attention span environment, it seems that even five seconds is long enough in advertising.

That’s how long Reddit managed to advertise for during February 7th’s Super Bowl, allegedly blowing it’s entire year’s ad budget in the process. And, unlike its Super Bowl stablemates, it hadn’t gone all out on some dramatic creative or celebrity-packed film. Instead, it flashed up a piece of static text that you’d have been hard-pressed to read in its entirety during the slot.

Reddit posted the ad on the back of the GameStop fandango that captured the internet for a few moments in early February. By taking on Wall Street short sellers, a group of Redditors (the Reddit army or mob some have called them) managed to dramatically drive up the price of the stock in a struggling company, earning money for themselves and the business owners, and beating the bearish traders at their own game. In the ‘blink and you missed it’ text message, Reddit called it a triumph for “the underdogs [who] can accomplish just about anything”.

The Super Bowl has been the iconic ad slot for top flight American brands for more than three decades. It’s a giant money-spinner for the event and its broadcast partners, with Kantar reporting that the single game generated $450m in ad revenue in 2020. While the big brands like Doritos, Coca-Cola and Budweiser certainly have deep pockets, it’s still a lot of cash to put on a single event.

Interestingly, in 2021 many of these big brands diverted their Super Bowl cash elsewhere. Budweiser brewer, Anheuser-Busch stated that it would be spending a similar amount on COVID-19 vaccine education and awareness instead, making it the first time in 37 years there hasn’t been an ad for the beer brand during Super Bowl. Hyundai cited different marketing priorities, as did Coca-Cola.

Of course, it’s not just a single event. The ads are hyped for weeks, even months, beforehand. Speculation rages about this or that celebrity, and the carefully-crafted messaging is designed to be repeated and meme’d ad nauseum for weeks afterwards. The value of the spend on the single ad slot is often measured in inches of newsprint.

Which makes Reddit’s choice interesting. The virality of GameStop certainly pushed Reddit to the top of the news agenda – largely for free. So what was to be gained from spending all its remaining marketing money on a five-second slot? Finbold indicates that social media platform Reddit mobile installs grew by 43.47% between December 2020 and January 2021 from 4.6 million to 6.6 million. On a year-over-year basis, the installs have skyrocketed by 127.58%

So, with Reddit already on a massive upward trajectory, has it upped the momentum at fortuitous time, just as the hype from GameStop was about to die down? Or was it just high time the somewhat niche social network joined the big boys? Time will tell if this is a blip or the catalyst Reddit needed to propel it into the mainstream – if, indeed, mainstream is where it wants to be.

Featured image: BigTunaOnline /