Yahoo! Personals Takes Online Dating to New Heights
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Yahoo! Personals Takes Online Dating to New Heights

A Yahoo! Personals survey found nearly 70 percent of singles felt most advertisement models were unreal, impersonal and unattainable, validating the shift to highlight real-life, everyday singles in its online ads. With this in mind, one of the decisions that were instrumental to the success of the program was which of the “Real People” would live on the billboard.

Paul Holmes

A Yahoo! Personals survey found nearly 70 percent of singles felt most advertisement models were unreal, impersonal and unattainable, validating the shift to highlight real-life, everyday singles in its online ads. With this in mind, one of the decisions that were instrumental to the success of the program was which of the “Real People” would live on the billboard.

Based on the research findings, it was important to identify the ideal person to represent the quality of people using Yahoo! Personals and the millions of singles using online dating services. We needed someone men would be interested in dating and someone with whom women could relate.  Ultimately, we selected Julie Koehnen, a 39-year old freelance screenwriter living in Los Angeles who had the personality and charm to pull this off. 

Weather was a key factor in selecting the location for this event, which would take place outdoors for three consecutive days in the middle of winter. And with public relations as one of the driving forces behind this program, it was also important to be in a major media market that could drive national media attention. For those main reasons, Los Angeles was the ideal location. The billboard itself was in a high-traffic area on Sunset Boulevard. It was only six feet off the ground, giving media easy access and good visibility for onlookers.

Fleishman-Hillard’s main objectives were to: build awareness of Yahoo! Personals and the launch of the Real People campaign, drive traffic to the Yahoo! Personals site and engage singles to post profiles and subscribe

Fleishman-Hillard’s strategic approach was to: create a unique and newsworthy event to generate consumer media coverage nationwide, leverage appeal of one of the “Real People” to drive single men and women to Yahoo! Personals and demonstrate that singles can meet fun, interesting and “real” people on the service

Starting on January 7, 2004, Yahoo! Personals and Fleishman-Hillard took Project: Real People to new heights when Julie Koehnen started living and dating on her very own LA billboard which featured her photo and a tag that read: Julie is looking for a few good dates, and she is not coming down until she gets them!

At the base of the billboard was a complete living and dining room, as well as an office area with a wireless computer that Julie used to search for and communicate with potential dates on Yahoo! Personals. Each day, Julie would have three dates atop the billboard before choosing her favorite man to invite back on the final evening for a date, off the billboard.

Knowing that Julie was going to be on the billboard for 12 hours every day (approximately 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.), activities were scheduled to entertain Julie, her dates and the worldwide audience watching the live webcast on Yahoo! Personals. 

The team arranged for Julie to start each morning with either yoga or a workout with a personal trainer from Crunch gym. Famed hair stylist Jose Eber and his staff made Julie look her best before each date – styling her hair and make-up atop the billboard for all to see. Magicians, musicians, cartoonists and comedians were hired as entertainment during her dates, and meals were catered by famous chefs from hot local restaurants such as the Ivy, Spanish Kitchen and DISH.

The live webcast brought the campaign to life and into the homes and offices of interested people worldwide. Unedited and uncut, “Live Julie TV” allowed suitors and fans to follow Julie’s online dating experience as it was happening.  Many watching the webcast sent Julie messages in hopes of receiving an on-air greeting, or provided unsolicited feedback on her chosen dates.

The team devised an aggressive media campaign about Julie’s adventure to spread the word throughout Los Angeles and across the country. Early on the morning of January 7th, a b-roll package of Julie on the billboard was distributed via satellite feed and hard copies were delivered to key national networks. A schedule of events for each of the three days was given to local Los Angeles television stations, all of which sent crews for live shots throughout the morning; most stayed all day capturing footage for evening packages.

In addition, a promotion with Star 98.7 built buzz through a contest for a listener to win one of only nine dates with Julie on the billboard. The station also aired promotional spots and live interviews with Julie over the course of the three days.

The team had done its job to spread the word, early. At 5 a.m. (two hours early) on the first day, broadcast satellite trucks from nearly every local LA affiliate and a number of national outlets were waiting for Julie to climb onto the billboard. With more than 80 broadcast stories airing on January 7th alone, we generated additional national attention for Yahoo! Personals as more than 260 additional broadcast stories ran over the following two days.

Many of the Los Angeles television crews returned each day for updates, live cut-ins, weather and more. The billboard became the de facto backdrop for local newscasts during the three-day period. In addition to the LA media, national shows such as Good Morning America, CNN Headline New, CNBC’s Morning Call and ESPN2’s Cold Pizza requested live interviews with Julie.

A final media push took place on the third afternoon, when Julie announced which of her billboard dates was invited to come back for the final date. CNN was granted the exclusive to air Julie’s decision live on Headline News, while local news helicopters circled overhead. In addition, all of the local LA stations returned for final interviews with Julie and her date – Clark – as they stepped off the billboard and into a limo.

The “Yahoo! Personals Takes Online Dating to New Heights” program exceeded all business and communications goals. Julie truly became a celebrity with the media and consumers nationwide captivated by her quest to find “a few good dates” on a billboard. Following are some of the highlights from the three-day event: media coverage reached more than 126 million consumers, message pull through was strong as many stories noted Yahoo! Personals being the first to use “real people” in a new campaign and showcasing that “real people” like Julie use online dating, 347 stories aired on television and radio stations in 100 media markets across the country, including 23 of the top 25 DMAs, live interviews and stories aired on outlets such as CNN Headline News, Good Morning America, ESPN2’s Cold Pizza, Good Day Live, ABC News Live, CNNfn Flipside and Money Gang, Today, MSNBC, the Howard Stern Show and ABC World News.

Now, on air, Charlie Gibson of Good Morning America called the program “ingenious”, print coverage included Associated Press, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Daily News and US Weekly, Yahoo! Personals subscriptions increased 199 percent from the previous year and 27 percent from the two weeks prior, the microsite created for Julie received 680,000 page views during the three days she was on the billboard.

The Project: Real People page received 591,000 hits during the same period and Julie received more than 1,000 emails and instant messages from suitors and fans, including a soldier stationed in Iraq who was watching the webcast.

The campaign was also a success in taking Julie’s love life to a new level – she and her final date from the billboard are still together!

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