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Plenty of Fish’s ‘Dick Pics’ and why dating apps are taking their ads to the subway

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By Audrey Kemp, LA Reporter

June 5, 2023 | 8 min read

Believe it or not, Plenty of Fish had pure intentions when it unveiled a ‘Gallery of Dick Pics’ in NYC’s Lafayette station. In this exclusive, the brand explains why dating apps are starting to focus their creative work in public transit.

'richard pic gallery' in the subway

Plenty of Fish's campaign comprises a gallery of singles named Richard (or Dick) / Credit: Plenty of Fish

How might the public react to a ‘Gallery of Dick Pics’ in Manhattan’s bustling Lafayette subway station? Last month, dating app Plenty of Fish dared to find out.

One might imagine such a gallery would prove to be too shocking for a public display. In reality, Plenty of Fish’s latest out-of-home campaign is quite tame. The “station domination,“ as transit-focused campaigns are known by advertisers, comprises tasteful portraits of hopeful singles and Plenty of Fish users, each named Richard and living in Vancouver. Even better, all of the Richards pictured apparently got dates following the campaign’s launch.

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The work aims to bring attention to what singles almost unanimously agree is the worst online dating behavior: sending explicit photos to a recipient without their consent. “Our campaign lightens [the act], while also calling it out in a way that’s observational,” said Plenty of Fish’s global director of brand marketing, Mitra Shad. “We can all, collectively, do better.”

It also builds on Plenty of Fish’s rebrand that took place in October of 2022. The rebrand unveiled a fresh new look throughout the Plenty of Fish app, as well as the first online virtual gallery of ‘Dick pics’ on the brand’s website. According to Shad, the campaign helps further position Plenty of Fish as a fighter brand in the saturated dating app space. Its niche is “making online dating more welcoming – using humor to take the worst dating behaviors that exist and flip them on their heads,” she said.

The station domination proliferation

Saturated is right. In recent months, many dating apps have rolled out so-called station dominations. In February, there was Tinder‘s ‘It starts with a swipe,’ which spread across global subway systems, and Hinge’s ‘Not-so frequently asked questions,’ which featured digital ads inside subway cars and subway ads in August of 2022.

Although Plenty of Fish may seem to be following this station-domination trend, it’s aiming to differentiate itself through its distinctly respectful messaging. “Creatively, other brands have used out-of-home more so to drive impressions at a reasonably efficient CPM (cost per thousand),” said McWhinnie. ”Whereas, with Plenty of Fish, it was exploiting that media opportunity to be loud and proud – creating visual impact and focusing on consumer attention as a challenger brand.”

So, why subway ads? They often yield powerful results for brands and consumers alike. According to a recent commuter survey from out-of-home media company Outfront Media, 71% of commuters notice station dominations, with one in three say it transforms their commute. Meanwhile, 33% even take photos with the subway ads.

“They are taking that real-life experience online to their social community,” says Victoria Mottesheard, vice-president of marketing in the New York Region at Outfront Media. “We’re seeing such a high rate of people utilizing out-of-home as their social content, which we called ’#SOOH’ (social out-of-home). Our station dominations, our wrapped trains, those immersive experiences in the subway, really fuel that social out-of-home conversation.”

Taking ‘Dick pics’ to social media

In addition to the subway, Plenty of Fish’s campaign also placed emphasis on other channels, namely social. The brand placed a gift shop truck directly outside of the station, which gave away various thematic items, including ‘Big Richard energy’ shirts, candles and soap.

They also conducted word-on-the-street-style interviews for social, asking singles what they feel is the worst online dating behavior; an overwhelming majority of their responses echoed the campaign’s message. That day, they were reportedly tagged in over 150 Instagram Stories.

To further amplify across social, Plenty of Fish enlisted eight different influencers with varying follower counts. The biggest creators, known as Are You Kidding TV, created a video that asked people to take six pictures of Dicks and they’d get $200. The participants ran into Lafayette station, took pictures of the ‘Dicks,’ and won the money. The film garnered over 3m views on TikTok and another million views on YouTube. Because the activation was so successful, the brand carried out an additional moving targets activation in the area between June 2 and June 4.

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A final piece of the campaign introduced a ‘No d*ck pics’ badge on the Plenty of Fish app, which looks like an eggplant illustration with a cross through it. Since its launch on May 8, over 160,000 US profiles have sported the badge. Plenty of Fish, creative agency 123 West Communications co-created the campaign, while OMD Canada assisted with media buying across Outfront Media’s platforms.

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