Reality TV Meets Online in Yahoo! Personals Campaign

Raising the bar (and the billboard) on potentially embarrassing dating experiences, Yahoo Personals is launching an interactive ad campaign featuring live video feeds of a member’s dates on a Sunset Strip billboard in Los Angeles.

The multimillion-dollar campaign launches Wednesday, lasts all year and features banner ads on Yahoo and iVillage. The ads use actual members of Yahoo Personals, in keeping with the campaign’s “Project: Real People” tagline. Some creatives point to the live video feeds page, while others feature text that reads “Models? What models? We’re all about real people.” and link to a splash page for the campaign.

It’s easy to see the reasons for such a major investment. Online dating and socializing sites are among the biggest moneymakers on the Net, bringing in more than $214 million during the first half of 2003 alone, according to a study conducted by comScore Networks and the Online Publishers Association.

Yahoo Personals has the leading market share in online dating sites, at 18.23 percent, according to Hitwise. Match.com is second with 12.48 percent, and Friendster has 8.46 percent of the market, Hitwise calculates.

Julie Koehnen, a 39-year-old Los Angeles resident — along with 38,000 other Yahoo Personals members — bravely volunteered to be featured in the promotion. A total of 50 people made the cut. Koehnen is now spending nine hours a day on a platform on a billboard surfing Yahoo Personals via a wireless computer and having dates with the men she contacts.

“She will have three dates today, three tomorrow and three on Friday,” said Cricket Wardein of Yahoo Personals. The men who visit Koehnen at the billboard will “have dinner with her and sit on the couch getting to know her. One guy’s reading his poems,” Wardein said. The contacts will be filmed on a Webcam. Koehnen’s billboard-dating stint ends Friday.

The Web casts of Koehnen’s experiences can be seen at http://personals.promotions.yahoo.com/julie.

Creative content for the campaign was designed and created internally, according to Wardein, who bears the title “relationship expert” at Yahoo Personals. (Wardein does not have a degree in psychology or counseling.)

“This is a great way to highlight the most important thing on our site, our users,” said Wardein, speaking to Internet Advertising Report by phone from the Sunset Strip billboard.

Meanwhile, an unidentified woman said in the background, “This is what you have to do to get a date in L.A.”

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