Reddit’s 5-Second Ad Was an Unlikely Super Bowl Winner

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Anheuser-Busch, Frito-Lay and Huggies were among the companies that went to great lengths — and great expense — to make ambitious Super Bowl commercials.

They wrangled celebrities, including Bruce Springsteen, appearing in his first commercial, and worked around the restrictions of pandemic filming to produce spots worthy of the advertising industry’s biggest day.

And then there was Reddit.

The message board that had a hand in the GameStop frenzy that shook Wall Street made its Super Bowl commercial in just a few days. A mere five seconds in length, the ad flitted across TV screens so quickly that many viewers thought there must have been a glitch in the CBS game broadcast. And yet it became one of the most talked-about (and posted-about) commercials of the day.

The Kellogg School Super Bowl Advertising Review, an annual ranking from Northwestern University’s business school, reported shortly after the game on Sunday that Reddit’s commercial was among the most effective commercials of the game broadcast. The Kellogg School’s list measures the execution of the commercial, the quality of the attention it generates, its memorability and other factors.

The Reddit ad started out like a clichéd car commercial, with two S.U.V.s racing across the desert. Then the signal seemed to fry, and Reddit’s orange-and-white alien-head logo commandeered the screen, followed by a lengthy printed statement that left viewers scrambling to grab a photo or screenshot.

“Wow, this actually worked,” read the message’s headline, a reference to Reddit’s appearance in its first Super Bowl commercial.

The commercial was created by R/GA, a marketing agency based in New York that also helped Uber Eats with its Super Bowl social media strategy. Ellie Bamford, the agency’s head of media and connections, said, “Squeezing an entire page of text into one of the shortest ads in Super Bowl history might seem weird, but it was certainly weird in the right way.”

“We knew we had to break the traditional ad model for Super Bowl with something disruptive, simple and fun,” she said.

Reddit’s chief marketing officer, Roxy Young, said Reddit did not commit to running the ad, which appeared in select regional markets, until after a Zoom meeting with R/GA on Feb. 1.

“I felt like, with all the conversation around Reddit, we had really earned the right to be in that Super Bowl moment, where there are millions of people tuned into a singular event,” Ms. Young said. “I just didn’t think that we could come together with 30 seconds of beautifully produced material — but I was confident that we could do something in five seconds.”

The ad team brainstormed on Tuesday and finished the commercial on Wednesday, Ms. Young said. It was among the most-searched Super Bowl commercials on Google on Sunday night and received more than 270,000 upvotes after being posted on Reddit. (Also popular on Reddit last week: the SuperbOwl community, where people mused on superb owls.)

Last month, users in Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum surged into GameStop stock, inflating the share price and leaving establishment short sellers in a bind. One hedge fund that had bet against GameStop suffered such enormous losses that it needed a $2.75 billion bailout from investors.

The statement in the Reddit commercial referred to its role in disrupting the markets. “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,” it said.

In a nod to the roughly $5.5 million CBS charged for each 30-second national broadcast slot, the text in the Reddit ad also noted, “Big game spots are expensive, so we couldn’t buy a full one.” Instead, the company said, it had spent its “entire marketing budget on 5 seconds of airtime.” (That may have been a bit of a stretch: A fund-raising round in 2019 valued Reddit, which is owned by a group of venture capital firms, employees and other shareholders, at $3 billion.)

The No. 1 performer on the Kellogg School’s ranking this year was a commercial from Cheetos, set to the 2000 earworm “It Wasn’t Me” by the rapper Shaggy. Shaggy appeared in the ad with Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, the stars of “That ’70s Show.” Other top advertisers on the Kellogg School’s list included Amazon, Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade, Doritos, Indeed, Tide, M&Ms and Chipotle.

Robinhood, a digital broker that was also a player in GameStop mania, broadcast a slick Super Bowl commercial promoting the theme that regular people should not be afraid to invest. That ad ranked below Reddit’s on the Kellogg School’s list.

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