CES Briefing: Reddit uses meetings with agencies and brands to make a run at the duopoly

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From 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Reddit executives, including CEO Steve Huffman, held eight hourlong meetings with five of the six major agency holding companies and several advertisers to pitch them on viewing Reddit as a viable alternative to Facebook and Google. And its pitch may be working.

Advertisers are more interested in spending money with Reddit in hopes that the platform can emerge as a legitimate competitor to the duopoly, according to one agency executive who met with Reddit on Tuesday. That’s not to say that Reddit is the only platform in which brands are interested. Advertisers are also placing bets on Amazon, Twitter, Snapchat, and so on to put pressure on Facebook and Google. But not until the past year was Reddit considered to be a potential contender, buoyed by its 330 million monthly active users and the platform’s increased efforts to woo advertisers.

“The agency development team, which launched in 2018, has basically cultivated a set of relationships that have never been more robust,” said Zubair Jandali, vp of brand partnerships at Reddit.

Reddit’s primary goal with Tuesday’s meetings was to address any questions or concerns that advertisers may have about Reddit, which is often still perceived as a looser platform with a vociferous user base that can be less than tolerant of advertising and post content that brands may not want to be associated with. To that end, during each of the meetings, Huffman sat down with the agency execs and marketers to answer any questions they might have, in the vein of Reddit’s popular “Ask Me Anything” format, said Leanne Doan, director of agency development at Reddit.

In addition to answering advertisers’ questions about its platform, Reddit used the meetings to tell advertisers how its platform could answer questions they might have about their customers. The platform has spun off its brand strategy team, which had been part of its brand partnerships team, into a separate unit that, using its internal listening tool, works with advertisers to understand how people are talking about their brands on Reddit and how they can participate in those conversations. “What we’re hearing more and more is that [advertisers] do not know we have that ability,” Doan said.

Reddit remains in the “experimental” spending bucket for most advertisers, said the agency exec. But as more advertisers become aware of the ways in which they can work with Reddit, the platform’s hope is that its business with the agency holding companies will mature to the point that it will sign its first upfront deal in which an agency group commits to spending a certain amount of money on Reddit.

“What we have found is when we educate, there is less of the ‘let’s just test’ [approach],” said Doan.

The top tech to know
Instead of trekking to the Las Vegas Convention Center, Omnicom’s clients were able to sit for an hourlong “whistle-stop tour” of the CES show floor that the agency holding company hosted at the Bellagio on Wednesday morning. Annalect CEO for North America Erin Matts and Resolution Media president George Manas surveyed 100 different products at 11 p.m. the night before and presented what they considered the best of CES.

“If there was one pervasive theme, it’s what we call ‘practical genius,’” Manas said. “We’re moving away from the trend of bright shiny object syndrome and into a space where technology is finally becoming more useful in a way that has been promised for so long.”

Home: Matts picked up on a trend of technology intended to make people’s homes healthier environments. That included a generator called Genny from Watergen that converts air into 25 liters of water a day and can double as a dehumidifier. Bonus: “If the apocalypse comes and you don’t have to access to fresh water, you can pick up a Genny,” quipped Matts, a joke that’s less funny to anyone who remembers the end of “The Big Short.”

TV screens: The bigger that TV screens become, the more of an eyesore they can be. But Samsung showed off a transparent TV screen that’s meant to blend into the environment (while not part of the presentation, also at CES LG presented a TV screen that can be rolled down into a cabinet when not in use).

In-car entertainment: “Screens aren’t limited to the living room anymore,” said Manas. He used the term “driving room” to describe the screens popping up for a future in which everyone cruises around in self-driving cars. Audi and Disney have collaborated on a product called “Holoride,” in which people wear VR headsets during a drive and can play VR games that mimic the ride by tailoring what happens in the VR experience to the actual driving experience, such as moving at the speed of the car and turning when the car does. “For folks who live in New Jersey and don’t want to pay attention to certain parts, it’s a great way to completely tune out and fly with Star Wars,” said Manas.

VR and AR: Even though people are hardly buying VR headsets, companies are hoping they will also buy VR accessories, like a full-body suit that vibrates to give a physical sensation to match what goes on in a virtual experience. The company behind that suit is called Teslasuit, which has no relation to Tesla the car company. “They may be facing a different kind of suit,” said Matts.

Wearables: Internet-connected watches and headphones and even necklaces have been a thing at CES for years. But this year Manas noticed more of a focus around self-improvement, self-care and self-awareness. EyeForcer has a pair of glasses that tackles “tech neck” by turning off an app on a person’s phone when they’ve been hunched over the screen for too long. And Embr Wave had a wristband that is supposed to cool people’s body temperatures in place of the neck air conditioners that can make people look like a victim of whiplash.

Retail: ShopPal has a robot that will automatically follow people around a store, has a storage container with an electronic lock and can be used to charge a phone while shopping. Still sounds awkward, but somehow potentially more realistic than XPOS’s point-of-sale system that lets people buy products in brick-and-mortar stores using cryptocurrency.

Medical devices: Butterfly iQ has a pocket-sized ultrasound device for the 4.7 billion people around the world that don’t have access to advanced medical imaging technology. Surgflix will use digital 3D visualizations for surgeons to watch livestreams of other surgeons’ procedures (“there probably won’t be pre-roll opportunities,” said Manas). And Yo Home Sperm Test is a product for men to test their fertility at home and compare how they rank against a worldwide database, which could lead to the weirdest kinds of Tinder bios.

Tech for good: Forget the self-driving cars and crypto-whatever, this is the tech that really matters. Bonocle is a device that looks like a mouse and can convert any surface to act as Braille paper. Helpicto converts text into pictograms to help people with developmental challenges and autism learn. Oticon Kaizn is an artificially intelligent assistant for hearing aids that can adjust sound based on a person’s preferred noise levels. And SmartEar converts sounds like doorbells into push notifications on people’s phones to assist people with hearing disabilities “to see the sounds around them,” said Manas.

More business than usual
For years, CES has been a venue for advertisers, agencies, platforms and publishers to gather together to hash out plans for the year. But in the past, many of those get-togethers were so-called “top-to-top” meetings of high-ranking executives on the buy and sell sides. In theory, those meetings are meant to be opportunities for the two sides to get on the same page at the highest level in order to facilitate business deals through the rest of the year. In practice, those meetings are not so productive, according to media and marketing executives.

But that’s changed this year. “It’s more bottom-up with foundations being laid,” said Adam Gerhart, U.S. CEO at Mindshare.

Instead of top-to-top meetings, advertisers, agencies and publishers are participating in more so-called “middle-to-middle” meetings, as one agency exec described them. Those meetings involve an advertiser, its agency lead and a publisher sales exec, the latter two being the people that would have otherwise been charged with following up on the top-to-top meetings and hammering out the actual deals. 360i CEO Jared Belsky referred to these three-party meetings as “the triangle of productivity.”

The shift doesn’t mean that actual deals are getting signed in the hotel suite, but the hope is that these middle-to-middle meetings will speed up the time between when a meeting takes place and a deal gets signed.

Best troll: Apple’s billboard overlooking the Las Vegas Convention Center — and, from one vantage, Google’s oversized booth outside the convention center — throwing shade by proclaiming “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.”
Most common lie: “I’ll make it to the show floor before I leave.”
Most common conversation starter: “Have you made it over to the show floor?”
Most talked-about tech: BreadBot, an automated vending machine that can bake bread, the smell of which wafted all over the show floor
Worst tech: Visitor wifi at the Aria
Worst taxi line (airport excluded): The Venetian on Wednesday afternoon when around 100 people were waiting for a cab
Best CES tech you didn’t know you needed: The Lovot Robot, which will cuddle with you when you’re lonely
Most CES moment: Dude on a business call while playing slots at the Aria
Most CES moment, part two: When someone asked if I thought that the accelerating advancement of technology was evidence that aliens exist (to be fair, there had been drinking)

CES Hack: Post-CES follow-ups
CES may be a great place to hammer out months’ worth of meetings in a matter of days. But those meetings are only as good as the deals they produce, and those deals are not getting done at CES, according to just about every brand, agency and media exec I’ve talked to this week. The post-CES follow-up is crucial. It can be easy enough to check that you’re following up on scheduled meetings by revisiting your calendar. But with all the parties and happy hours and on-the-fly conversations around the Aria, it can be hard to remember who you ran into and what you talked about — which is why business cards still matter, according to Martina Suess, global head of marketing and communications at iCrossing. Those pieces of paper can serve as physical reminders of who you saw at the MediaLink party or while in line to pick up your badge outside C Space. And while you’re waiting for your flight back home or “working from home” on Friday, you can jot a quick note on the card of what exactly it was that you wanted to follow up on. But save the actual follow-up until next week after the recipient has caught up on a week’s worth of emails.


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