Imgur has built a massive audience for the sometimes amusing, sometimes adorable images and memes that it hosts. Now it faces another challenge: Making money.
With 2 billion monthly page views, advertising seems like an obvious business plan. The problem, says CEO Alan Schaaf, is that “the Imgur audience has always hated ads.” So yes, the company runs a banner ad on each page, but the audience probably sees it as a necessary evil. They probably won’t be happy with a second ad, Schaaf says, so a different approach was needed.
That was the impetus for a new ad that’s running today, prepared by creative agency Mekanism for Brisk iced tea. Instead of just running another ad, Mekanism and Brisk created an image that borrows from the Scumbag Steve meme. It looks pretty similar to other Scumbag Steve images, with a photo of Steve accompanied by a dick-ish message — except this time, the message is promoting Brisk (you can see the ad above). Mekanism even got approval from the “real” Scumbag Steve (i.e., Blake Boston, the guy in the photo) to use the picture.
This is going to be Imgur’s first experiment with a new Promoted Image ad unit, where the Brisk ad will be featured in Imgur’s image gallery. The hope is to run campaigns that don’t feel like ads to the Imgur community, but rather just other pieces of content. And even though it may look like a whipped together image, Mekanism Brendan Gahan’s says the look and message was carefully considered, going through round after round of revisions.
The edginess of user-generated content sites can sometimes scare brand advertisers away, but Chris Oates, who manages the Brisk brand for owner PepsiCo, says this kind of ad made sense, since meme-style content seems to resonate with Brisk fans. Schaff admits that there’s some controversial or offensive content on the site, but he says Imgur works hard to make sure that the images featured in the gallery are advertiser-friendly.
“Most viral content is not offensive content, it’s not pornography,” he says. “It’s really good, quality content.”
Brisk plans to follow the Scumbag Steve ad with another ad, with a new meme, in a few weeks.