OkCupid's Melissa Hobley on dating site's deliberately provocative DTF ads

By March 20, 2019Advertising
Melissa Hobley Credit: Illustration by Dena Cooper

Founded in 2004, online dating site OkCupid long refrained from advertising, but it changed its tune last year, after mobile upstarts like Tinder were finally too big to ignore. Under its first chief marketing officer, Melissa Hobley, OkCupid and Wieden & Kennedy New York created cheeky, brightly colored “DTF” ads that replaced the “F” word in the colorful expression with others representing couples’ shared interests. The copy ranges from “DTFire Up the Kiln” to “DTFree Speech,” currently up on billboards in Washington, D.C., and part of the campaign’s second leg. The ads, some of which have raised hackles—its “DTFilter Out the Far Right” was banned in some markets, and depictions of same-sex couples earned the ire of anti-LGBTQ groups—have boosted social mentions of the brand by 50 percent, according to the company. Hobley, who joined OkCupid in 2017, recently spoke with Ad Age about the campaign and its repercussions. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.

How much was the origin of “DTF” influenced by current events?

They absolutely informed what we were doing. We really started leaning in to politics. If you’re passionately progressive and you stumped for Bernie or Hillary, that’s an essential part of your life. And if you work on environmental causes, you probably want to know before you match if somebody even believes climate change is a thing or not.

When we were planning the campaign, #MeToo was having a moment, people were gearing up for the Women’s March again. There was so much happening with young women in particular, and obviously a lot of that was driven by what was happening in the political arena and in the current administration.

It’s not an overtly partisan campaign. But you still got pushback.

Politicizing moments or statements or people or brands has become a thing to do. There’s nothing actually political about women having the ability to work without the fear of sexual harassment, right? That’s just not a political issue, but it has become politicized. There was a petition started by a far-right group that said the “DTF” campaign “promotes lesbian sex and drug use and it’s not fit for public viewing.” And we said, “Well, yes, actually we are promoting lesbian sex. You’re totally right.”

Bumble is moving beyond matchmaking with an ad starring Serena Williams, and it seems there’s a dating app with a new gimmick every few months. How do you differentiate your service?

You have to answer at least 15 questions to set up your profile. They range from things about wine and travel to whether users support the border wall—we have had over 2 million responses to that question. Engaging with people about the things they care about resonates more than ever.

These data points you’re collecting are obviously helpful for accurate matching. How do they factor into the marketing?

It’s useful in two areas. We help you have a better experience dating. Here’s a perfect example: Don’t say “Hey” as the first message. Guys, stop doing this. It’s so annoying. It’s so lazy. And you have an 84 percent chance of being ignored. Women, if you send the first message, you have a two-and-a-half times greater chance of getting a response.

We also use data to say, ‘Here’s what’s interesting, here’s what people are talking about.’ One of the biggest profile photos of the last two years for women has been of the Women’s March. Our parents or the previous generation said, never talk politics until, like, date five, maybe even later. And now you’re saying it before you even match, before you even consider the date.

Are those kinds of conversation-starters important for a service where word-of-mouth is one of the main drivers of new sign-ups?

It’s crucial. Giving people interesting things to talk about is paramount. So “DTF” was something we were excited about right away.

Does the data show any interesting changes happening in the dating pool?

We have a question people can answer on their profiles: “Would you prefer great sex or sane politics?” We’ve been around a long time, so we know it’s always been “great sex.” Always. But last year, in certain cities within certain age groups, you see a shift. So in San Francisco with young women, now they want sane politics over great sex.

What I think is so beautiful is how much they care about some of the things going on in the world and the role that they want that to play in finding their person. And maybe that person is for Saturday night and maybe it’s for Saturday nights for the rest of their life. But in an era when millennials get a lot of flak for being superficial and selfie-driven, we’re seeing the opposite here.

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