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Scruff's Wild Adventure in Rio: Horny Guys, Reluctant Models

scruff-rio
Photo Courtesy of Scruff

The popular app marketed itself at the Games and welcomed a huge audience of gay and bi men. It also encountered local models scared to be publicly associated with a gay product.

In 2014 the article "Scruff Saves The Day In Russia For American Journalists" hit the internet. Ryan, one of our members and a Fox News reporter covering the Sochi 2014, was able to utilize the app to get recommendations for office supply stores. He also learned about the gay culture in Moscow by chatting with other members. Ryan's experience was exciting to hear about and reinforced that Scruff goes beyond just dating and hooking up. It also made us think about our role during the Games, where so many people, both gay and straight, come together.

Fast-forward to 2016 and Rio. Scruff now has more than 10 million members worldwide, and Brazil has 1.6 million of those, ranking number 2 globally, after the United States. Similar to Russia, Brazil is known to be a hostile country for LGBTQ people. In fact, nearly 1,600 LGBTQ Brazilians have died in attacks over the past four and a half years, according to Grupo Gay da Bahia, which tracks deaths through news articles.

With the largest contingent of LGBTQ athletes heading to Rio de Janeiro this year, we asked ourselves how we could show our support for these brave athletes and to the gay community in Brazil. We looked into marketing and advertising opportunities, including billboards and hiring a plane to fly around the city with our logo on the banner -- but most of the space had already been sold to official sponsors of Rio '16. So, at the recommendation of one of our local international marketing coordinators, Pedro, we hired a local agency familiar with rules of the area.

To our excitement, the agency provided us with a few scruffy-looking brand ambassadors to walk around Rio and its public spaces, including beaches, plazas, and outdoor cafes. Pedro and the models took to the streets dressed in Scruff swag, passed out water bottles, promo codes, and merchandise. They walked around in Post 9, Ipanama's gay-friendly area, and spoke with people about the app. They held signs with our logo and hashtag #JogueNoNossoTime (#PlayOnOurTeam).

The significance of this hashtag is derived from a campaign we launched in 2015. We bought two 48-by-14-foot digital billboards near Arizona's University of Phoenix Stadium, which hosted the NFL's Super Bowl that year. The billboards featured two guys in a locker room holding footballs with a caption that read "Play on Our Team!" The intent of the message was to open dialogues with the broader community. Our objective was to enable common discourse between gay and straight sports fans regarding perceptions and acceptance. Further, while it was an obvious attempt to attract more members, this ad campaign gave a resounding nod to brave athletes who had come out of the closet. We wanted to bring this message to Rio.

In Rio, there was one minor disappointment -- the agency provided us with models who did not want their photos taken after they found out they were promoting a gay brand. They fulfilled their part of the contract without the photos, and of course, our marketing team had to figure out a different strategy. It was a moment that gave us insight about internalized homophobia in Brazil, but inspired a renewed passion to get our message of acceptance and inclusiveness to as many locals as possible. The next day, the agency provided us with four new models. They arrived full of energy and excitement, promoting the brand on the beaches of Rio's South Zone, passing through Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. They distributed our merchandise and interacted with the local public and abundant tourists. They were proud to represent the brand and were happy to take photos with the photographer who was provided. Needless to say, it was a success.

To further our mission of connecting with the community in Rio, we gave Scruff Pro to any existing member located in the city (within a 50-kilometer radius) during the days of the games and for a duration of two weeks. We also distributed 2000 Scruff Pro promo cards (three-month duration) for new downloads. We held a "Powered by Scruff" event at Sacadura 154 and sponsored R:evolution, the second-largest dance party in Rio.

Ultimately, the challenges of promoting a gay brand and furthering our core mission of connecting the LGBTQ community in a country that isn't as accepting as others is not an easy feat, but we did it. We are continually looking for ways to show our support and respect for the global gay community and to facilitate the conversations around our ever-changing and visible membership. In Brazil we found that moving a less accepting realm into a more enlightened one takes time, but we strove to remain focused on the importance of positive visibility and pride.

JOHNNY SKANDROS is the founder of Scruff. Follow him on Twitter @johnnyscruff.

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