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Social Native
Marketing Mix Podcast with Melissa Hobley

Melissa Hobley talks the advantages of tapping into pop culture, politics, and provocation as a brand today

April 9, 2019

Joining us on the Marketing Mix Podcast is Melissa Hobley, the Global CMO of OkCupid. Melissa talks driving positive social change through marketing, her experience in launching the infamous DTF campaign and the value of anthropologists for brands wanting to make a cultural impact. In discussing OkCupid’s recent Game of Thrones campaign, Melissa describes how the dating app is committed to creating deeper, meaningful connections that users have often been deprived of.

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Jeff Ragovin: Let’s talk about your recent DTF campaign. How did you guys come up with this concept?

Melissa Hobley: The brand is 15 years old and had never done an ad campaign. We were one of the original dating apps, and this means that we know a lot. We have learned so much about how to match you, and what works and what doesn’t. The whole legacy of the company is based on data, and this means hiring the best engineers we can. We also hire a lot of diverse engineers, including people who are LGBTQ or identify as non-binary. We’re proud to be one of the most inclusive dating apps in the world, and that’s always been important to us.

How DTF came about is really interesting - in fall 2017, #MeToo was just gaining momentum. There were several things happening politically with the administration. Planned Parenthood and ACLU were receiving record levels of donations because people were really scared of losing certain rights. Given how supportive we are about LGBTQ rights, we were trying to come up with something that spoke to what was going on- OkCupid is one of the only dating apps that really speaks to what you're dealing with and we wanted this to reflect in the campaign.

DTF is a label that straight guys use with each other when talking about girls, and it’s derogatory. It’s associated with the word “slut”, and we decided that this was a term that needed to be redefined. So we worked with Wieden+Kennedy and decided to flip DTF. We really did our homework on this. When you take a derogatory label, and the impacted group takes ownership and flips the meaning of it, you regain your power. Take the word queer, for example. This was a derogatory, negative label placed on a marginalized group, which they reclaimed and made it something to be proud of. That was the mission with DTF.

Jeff Ragovin: What were some challenges you faced?

Melissa Hobley:  We had a lot of challenges, and we knew that would happen. We worked with Maurizio Cattelan, who is one of the most talked about artists today, with his work being featured at the Whitney and the Guggenheim. He’s famous for the Golden Toilet, which they famously offered to the White House in lieu of the Van Gogh as a giant middle finger to the Trump administration.

We had this provocative label that has historically meant something very derogatory, and certain cities banned it outright. The city of Chicago and SF wouldn’t run our campaigns on any public transportation, billboards or real estate developments owned by the state. There are almost twenty DTF concepts and they range from things like, “Down To Fall Head Over Heels” to “Down To Fight About the President” and we ran into limitations on things that felt too political such as “Down To Filter Out The Far Right.” We don’t think that’s political because the far right is associated with homophobia, and hate and bigotry are off-limits, but a lot of places wouldn’t let us run that.

We also got a lot of press whenever someone said no to us. For example, there was a famous petition started in Portland when we turned on DTF and blitzed the city. A group called “Citizen Go” started a petition that became so talked about that even Fox News and the New York Post covered it. There was a beautiful image of a woman holding another woman, and we got a lot of backlash for promoting lesbian sex- and yes, we definitely are promoting that.

Jeff Ragovin: What were your motivations for taking a stand?

Melissa Hobley: There are two reasons why we did this. One is OkCupid- I haven’t been here long enough to take credit for this, but OkCupid has a legacy of taking a stand on social issues over the last fifteen years. For instance, when the CEO of Mozilla Firefox made homophobic statements, we immediately severed ties. We were the first to create an actual workable solution if you identify as nonbinary, and doing that in a dating app is challenging- it’s almost like building the Empire State Building and then changing the plumbing! There’s no business case that said you will ever recoup the cost, time, or energy. So our legacy and history really enabled us to say that this was the right thing to do.

The other reason was simply to get attention amidst a competitive market- when you are a brand that has been around for a while in the world of dating apps, you have to do something to capture attention. So it was definitely in our own interest to be bold and loud. We don’t have the dollars that a company like Nike would have, and we couldn’t buy every impression we made. The dream was to end up on Instagram feeds, and we did in the thousands. We couldn’t believe it.

70% of our users are millennials, and they get a bad rap for being shallow and appearance based. But we’re actually seeing the opposite- we’re seeing people match on politics at an absolutely unprecedented rate. Here’s an interesting fact: young women, in particular, are prioritizing similar political views over sex in certain cities. It seems as if the new sex appeal is centered around questions like did you vote, and who is the candidate you’re going to stand behind? I think that’s really awesome. There’s a lot of political learning going on in big cities, especially with young women on the progressive side. We’re very proud to be the only app matching you in terms of politics. And if that isn’t important to you, that’s also okay- you can opt out of any filters or questions that you don’t want to answer.

Jeff Ragovin: Can you talk about the new Game of Thrones campaign?

Melissa Hobley: We started by deciding what makes the product different. We have badges and categories that, if they matter to you, you can answer those questions and then you’re actually powering the algorithm. This can vary from whether you think politics matters, or travel matters, and more. The ACLU was one of our first big badge partners since they are very much on the front lines of fighting for LGBTQ rights. Whether or not you identify as that or not, our users care about that for their friends and loved ones that are in that community. So now you can match you with someone based on your favorite TV show, starting with Game of Thrones.

Politics may really matter to you and that’s great, but TV is a really easy icebreaker, and so is music. We are leading into matching on these things and having badges and making it easy and prominent so you don’t have to dig through somebody’s profile.

Jeff Ragovin: How are you extending your marketing through consumers?

Melissa Hobley: We have been working with influencers steadily over the last year and a half since we started building on the marketing function, but I think we could do even more on this. Dating is interesting because some people can’t tell you enough about it. I think that dating is about this balance of finding the right people who match with you on what matters and what doesn’t- whether it’s TV, a good margarita or politics. Many dating apps are location-based and that’s about it. We have a lot of success stories, we’re really good at this, and people do pop up and talk about it. I get invited to five to ten weddings a week, which is so lovely. We’re featured in the New York Times wedding section more than any other dating app by a factor of four!

We’re constantly trying to figure out how to get people to go out there and tell more stories. When Tinder came onto the scene a couple of years ago, it really helped accelerate online dating and made the stigma go away. Now if you’re single and not on a dating app, it’s unusual. People are sharing much more than they did five years ago and you really hear beautiful stories.

Jeff Ragovin: Thank you for joining the Marketing Mix Podcast.

Please note, the above has been paraphrased for editorial purposes