Why Reddit Used Adzerk to Scale Their Native Ad Platform | Adzerk

Why Reddit Used Adzerk to Scale Their Native Ad Platform

Alex Carl
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Reddit is a social bookmarking platform with hundreds of millions of monthly visitors (Redditors). They came to Adzerk looking to scale their native ad product and build a self-serve interface so advertisers could buy the ad units directly.

reddit ad server
reddit ad server

Reddit knew that their community was special - and vocal. The discerning community of Redditors were willing to engage in conversations and feedback around a variety of topics, from futurology to movies to showerthoughts on a daily basis.

At the same time, anything that came across as inauthentic was dangerous to marketers, as seen by this Ask Me Anything (AMA) with Woody Harrelson, which led to Redditors angrily realizing it had to be someone from Woody's PR team and not Woody himself answering.

reddit ad server
reddit ad server

Because of this, Reddit had already built a native ad product for displaying user-friendly ads on their site, allowing them to monetize without resorting to obnoxious ad experiences their users would hate.

These sponsored posts appear at the top of each community forum (called subreddits), looked like standard organic threads, and could be targeted to specific subreddits. In order to buy, advertisers worked directly with Reddit's ad operations team and were provided manual reports.

These native ad units mesh with the values of the Reddit user community: transparency (they are blue and marked as sponsored), privacy (it targets based on subreddit, not user PII), and relevance (the ads pertain to the subreddit they are in).

They even created a separate subreddit for Redditors to see the most popular sponsored posts.

reddit ad server
reddit ad server

However, Reddit realized that while their initial native ad unit technically worked, advertisers did not enjoy its lack of features, reliability, and scalability.


"We had an in-house system that we built, but many advertisers found that targeting didn't scale. Pricing and delivery also fluctuated highly by day, and the system allowed for very little flexibility around ad delivery."
Jena Donlin, Sr. Product Manager

To improve their native ad product, Reddit came to Adzerk, whose ad serving APIs could help them scale and add new features to their ad product.

What Reddit Built with Adzerk

After integrating Adzerk's APIs into their tech stack, Reddit improved their product with some additional new features that their advertisers loved:

  1. Up/down voting - To make these ad units truly native, Reddit needed to offer users the ability to up/down vote the ads, like they can do to organic posts. With Adzerk's ability to do custom event tracking and reporting, they could insert special Adzerk tracking URLs that would fire when clicked and update the count number.
    reddit ad server
    reddit ad server
  2. Comments and sharing - Likewise, Adzerk's tools allowed them to introduce comments and sharing to sponsored posts, giving their user base another way to interact with the ads.
  3. Improved ad delivery logic - Reddit's current native ad platform had a basic delivery algorithm that wasn't optimizing revenue in real-time nor stopping campaigns on a dime - leading to over and under spending of advertiser budgets. With Adzerk they had access to a Decision Engine and Revenue Optimizer that would automatically make the right decisions based on rules they inputted - leading to more revenue and happier advertisers.


    "Adzerk's API allowed us to centralize our ad serving information and avoid having to reinvent the wheel on creating the ad delivery logic that wasn't available within our earlier house system."
    Jena Donlin, Sr. Product Manager

  4. Open up all subreddits for targeting - Previously, Reddit couldn't include all subreddits as targeting options, which was frustrating to advertisers. With Adzerk, Reddit easily incorporated the thousands of subreddits they had as individual targeting options.
  5. Enable geolocation targeting - Reddit also added rules allowing advertisers to target specific locations such as countries and states.
  6. Self-serve dashboard for advertisers - First, Reddit built a self-serve portal for advertisers to log into and manage their campaigns and reporting. They then connected this to Adzerk's Management and Reporting APIs so that any changes in their UI would be reflected in Adzerk's system. This meant that the entire buying process could be automated and was more transparent to their advertisers.


"We use the Management API to create Adzerk representations of all Reddit promotions. Whenever a link or campaign is created or modified, we use the API to update the objects on Adzerk's end."
Brian Simpson, Staff Engineer

The core of Adzerk's tech is the Decision API, a RESTful endpoint. When a web client calls the API (which could be a browser or a standalone application), the Adzerk Decision Engine chooses a creative, and returns a JSON object containing the contents and all the metadata of that creative.

In Reddit's case, the server would make a request to the Decision API including the user's IP (for location targeting) and the subreddit they were currently on. Reddit would then take the information in Adzerk's response (such as the image URL, the headline, the advertiser name, and the up/down voting links) and insert it into their client to be rendered.

The Results of Reddit's Ad Platform

Now that Reddit's self-serve platform is running off of Adzerk, the team has noticed some definite improvements.


"We've seen growth everywhere - in the number of onboarded advertisers, the number of campaigns being run, and the number of subreddits being targeted."
Jena Donlin, Sr. Product Manager

It's a win for all three parties: Redditors get relevant, unobtrusive ads; advertisers get better targeting control over their campaigns; and Reddit's revenue has jumped from the new features.

Interested in learning more?

If you're interested in scaling your own ad product, Adzerk is happy to schedule a free demo to talk about next steps.



Alex Carl

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