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  • Writer's pictureKelli Zorn

The Dick Joke Heard ‘Round The Industry: A Data Story

If your LinkedIn feed has looked anything like ours, then there’s no way you missed the copious number of dicks being discussed. Yes, you read that right.

AdWeek recently published a piece featuring e.l.f. Beauty's viral “So Many Dicks” campaign. Born from the brains at Oberland, this first phase of the larger Change The Board Game initiative centers around a specific data point - “There are more men named Dick (Richard, Rich, Rick) on publicly-traded boards than entire groups of underrepresented people.”

Funny, impactful, and memorable, I sat down with Oberland Co-founder and CEO, Drew Train, to learn more about the research behind the work and how the team curated such a striking data story.

How did the team go about selecting the leading insight behind the “So Many Dicks” campaign? The number of “people named Richard serving on executive boards” (566) is very specific.

We had found an article by Bloomberg which referenced prior work from The New York Times. In 2015 the Times did a study comparing the number of men named John who were CEOs of S&P 1500 companies to the number of women. And Johns outnumbered women something like 4 to 1 at the time. Bloomberg republished a version of that study with the same kind of analysis in April 2023. This time [8 years later], women just outnumbered Johns, 1.7 to 1, or something like that. The article went on to list the most common male names [serving on boards] today, and we noticed that Richard was one of them.

The brief we received from e.l.f. Beauty was centered around doing something prominent with the statistic that only 4 of the 4,200 (<1%) publicly traded companies in the U.S. have boards that are made up of two-thirds women, and one-third folks of diverse ethnicities. The [updated Bloomberg] story got us wondering if the John concept would hold true for Richard, now. Because there was a very clear opportunity for a dick joke.

We developed the rough concept and asked some students from the University of Richmond to look at a sample of data to give us an idea if this was something that could actually, potentially pan out. Then work progressed across the whole data set.

Was there another idea that emerged from the data that was maybe left behind in favor of the dick joke?

We have lots more ideas. I don’t know that they were left behind; or if they’re coming soon.

I think e.l.f.’s Change The Board Game initiative has a lot more legs to the stool and a lot more work to come. “So Many Dicks” was designed to be a lightning rod moment to gather the energy, to channel it, to focus people’s attention, and to bring a coalition together. The campaign will probably move into more serious, impactful content. The dick joke is funny for a minute, but there’s much more to it than that.

At its core, the “So Many Dicks” campaign is an in-your-face data visualization and data story. Do you have any advice for other brands or agencies looking to make an impact with their own data storytelling?

You can’t fact people to death. You also can’t fact them into caring. You need to give them an angle, something relatable, that you can wrap the statistic around. In this case, the name.

Richard is not really that common a name anymore. That human reference point of, “how many people do I know named Dick?” is something we’re able to work with. We can apply diversity statistics to that frame of reference, and that’s what made it work. If you just try to throw statistics at people with the intention of shock and awe, you forget that you first have to get their attention.

If somebody is sitting down and lobbying statistics at another human in a 1:1 conversation, you might be able to get somewhere, but nobody is stopping their scroll just to hear your facts. You have to give them a human point of reference, and that’s what this campaign was able to do.

The campaign itself is very cheeky, very memorable. What challenges did the team face in developing the campaign? Were clients always on board? Or did it take some finessing to bring folks around to such a lightning rod concept + tagline?

e.l.f. has a lot of courage. They consider themselves to be “bold disruptors with a kind heart,” and that’s how we wanted to approach it. There were, of course, concerns about what people might say and how people might react and wanting to keep the campaign positive and inclusive. It's not that there are "So Many Dicks," it's more that there is "so few of everyone else." Though, the biggest challenge was about identity; how were we identifying people in the data being used to build out the campaign concept.

Due to (logistical) limitations, the campaign’s original data set had to identify people not using self-identified data. Moving forward, we’re pivoting to get those included in the [now established] database to self-identify. Self-identification based data was always where we wanted to be.

We approached the original data set with a lot of humility and understanding of its limitations, and did what we could. We encourage folks to contact us, work with us, on updating the data to reflect the way they self identify. We want to be open that this wasn’t an easy thing, and that there were likely to be some mistakes, but that it was worth doing because it was able to galvanize so much support for the concept, the message, and the initiative at the center of it all.

What’s next for the “So Many Dicks” campaign? The larger Change The Board Game initiative?

Without revealing too much…I would expect to see more storytelling content about the ROI of DEI.

Personally, what has been your favorite and/or the most rewarding part of working on this campaign?

There’s a few things - 

Personally, as the co-founder and owner of a small, purpose-driven agency, I never thought a campaign about dicks would be the thing we’re most famous for. We’ve done so much serious work for so many serious causes and while this is also those things, it just makes me smile and it makes me laugh, in the best way.

From a professional standpoint, this is a full-circle moment for me. I served on a public board for a little less than 5 years and, and during that time, participated in the NACD summit where I sat on the diversity panel (even though I’m a straight, white guy). Mostly because I had a background in marketing and was under 40. I always thought it was bizarre that I was sitting in that seat. I’m happy now to be part of the conversation from this side, helping the folks helping to create change.

Learn more about e.l.f.’s Change The Board Game initiative, and see how they are working to increase the rate of women and diverse members added to corporate boards. Additional info on the “So Many Dicks” campaign can be found HERE.


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