Imgur’s come a long way from being the pet project of a redditor to being a massively lucrative company of over a dozen employees. But now that they’ve got a titanic VC from Andreessen Horowitz, those first five years are starting to look like a quiet first act.
In order to fill those $40 million boots, they’re building out a new advertising arm of their business. They’ve put up half a dozen listings for sales directors and creative strategists, and they’ve brought on Steve Patrizi, who recently took on native ads for LinkedIn and Pinterest, as the new VP of Market Development.
So how is Mr. Patrizi going to monetize one of the most nascent, friendly, pun-loving communities? The way Mr. Patrizi sees it, Imgur isn’t so much as a flipbook of memes as it is a new kind of user-generated magazine of the future. Ever since Imgur built in the gallery feature, Imgurians have been using it to tell stories, write news articles, make listicles, share comics and create little blogs or visual libraries.
“A user might come to the homepage and see the front page, but then they start turning the pages, and some of those pages will come from brands,” Mr. Patrizi said. “And we want the provider of the content to be giving more to this community than taking back.”
Imgur has dug into the data behind its first few test ads, and they’ve found that users are nine times more likely to upvote their first ads than to downvote them—not a bad start. Mr. Patrizi’s not sure how it lines up with the rest of Imgur’s ratio, but he’s confident that if the community thought an ad was garbage, they’d send it plummeting much faster to the bottom of the pile.
Still, communities like Reddit and Imgur are notoriously ad-averse, and reject advertisements by lambasting them publicly. But this risk is part of Mr. Patrizi’s pitch for Imgur as a great place to place ads. By his account, brands should be using Imgur as a test-bed or workshop for making better ads.
“Nobody loves online ads, but we don’t always have a forum to share that sentiment,” Mr. Patrizi said. “When you don’t have the burden of a real identity there’s a reflection of how people really are. That’s an opportunity to connect with how people really behave.”
Still, opening yourself up to the Internet’s sharpest wits and punsters comes at a risk. For every successful viral marketing stunt out there, there’s some hijacked, backfired campaign like #myNYPD or #askJPMorgan. Mr. Patrizi remembers a time when Brands would never dream of exposing themselves to an online community or user generated content platform for just that reason.
But he’s confident that ad buyers will come around eventually, just like they came around to the idea of putting their brands on Facebook and Twitter.
“A lot of brands will approach Imgur the same way,” Mr. Patrizi said. “They’ll say, ‘This is something new, we should probably be there, and we have to do it the right way.'”