Brand Strategy Work & Wellbeing Copywriting

‘Exposure doesn’t pay the bills’: is Thursday’s crowd-sourced Tube ad exploitative?


By Hannah Bowler, Senior Reporter

April 13, 2022 | 4 min read

When dating app Thursday issued a call to LinkedIn users to come up with the copy to fill its empty billboards, the stunt received hundreds of submissions. Some, however, have called it exploitative, as The Drum finds out.

Thursday dating app in hot water for its copywriting competition

Thursday dating app in hot water for its copywriting competition

Dating app newcomer Thursday is already known for its gorilla marketing tactics. Most recently, it bought empty London underground billboards to fill with copy submitted on LinkedIn, offering a namecheck on the ads in return for the work.

At the time of writing, the post by its chief executive officer and co-founder George Rawlings had received over 600 comments. In it, he wrote: “A brand is no longer what we tell consumers it is, it is what consumers tell each other it is.”

So, is Rawlings’s initiative actually empowering creatives? Some have already slammed it for not paying creatives, with many claiming a credit isn’t enough.

Is it enough?

Creative director Nathalie Gordon of The Or tells The Drum: “Getting people to blatantly work for free was embarrassing five years ago. Now – as the UK wage squeeze continues and we’re facing soaring inflation hikes and the cost of living rising above means – it’s downright criminal.”

She adds: “Exposure doesn’t pay the bills and I’m sure it will dress it up as a ‘harmless stunt’, but I think it smacks of a worrying culture where people prey on naivety. The media space it has available wasn’t free, so if it can afford a billboard on the underground, it can afford to pay someone for their time, effort and IP.”

Michelle Connolly, the associate creative director at Live & Breath, posted on LinkedIn: “Why are brands still trying to get free work out of people by paying with ’exposure’? Here’s the ironic thing – a hell of a lot of people right now are going to be suffering from exposure rather than benefitting from it. Do better.”

Connolly tells The Drum she is “disheartened“ to see no value given to hardworking creative over. “It could have given a creative graduate the chance to give it a shot, even. I realize it jokes about not being able to afford a server six days a week, but choosing not to pay creative is just not good practice.“

Another commenter wrote: “It would be really nice if there was a cash prize with this, rather than getting people to work for free when copywriters are struggling to get work. I love your brand, but credit doesn’t pay the bills.”

At the time of writing, the post has achieved thousands of likes, with many LinkedIn users praising Thursday for its distinctive marketing technique. Sofia Sagel wrote: “Nowadays, advertising has to be disruptive in order to be noticed. I loved this idea. I’m sure some people now know what Thursday is and it hasn’t even launched the campaign.”

Among the submissions so far are plays on The Cure’s Friday I’m in Love, homages to Craig David’s 7 Days and a few Friends references. Jordan Grindrod channeled Mean Girls with ‘On Wednesday we wear pink, on Thursday we wear nothing.‘

Lots of users tapped into Wednesday being known as hump day, with Charlie Bastier submitting ‘Thursday is the new hump day,‘ and Adam Clarke writing ‘The app for when you didn’t hump enough on hump day.‘

Other submissions included ‘Where and when did you meet? Thursday,‘ by Jonathan Nyst, ‘This station is busiest between 7pm – 10pm on Thursday,‘ by Jessica Sophia Bruno and ‘Thursday. Because no great story ever started with a Tuesday,‘ by Scarlett Scotland.

The Drum has reached out to Thursday‘s Rawlings to get his reaction to claims the campaign is exploitative. We will update with his comments should he respond.

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