Serena Kerrigan, the “Queen of Confidence,” took a creative risk starting her Instagram Live dating show, “Let’s F*cking Date”, when Covid-19 locked down the country, essentially turned her world — and that of many others — upside down. And it has paid off — literally.
“The limitations of being a content creator during a global pandemic is what forced me to think outside the box, and create the first Instagram reality show,” Kerrigan says, noting that she had just begun building her brand after quitting her job at Refinery29.
Thanks to the show and her sponsorships she was able to secure a “significant 6 figures in 2020” since quitting her job in February, though she wouldn’t specify her specific income.
“Let’s F*cking Date,” which is in its second season, became a viral sensation on Instagram after Kerrigan realized she had a small window to capture the attention of those stuck at home perpetually scrolling on the social platform.
On average, the show has had 5,000 viewers per episode, Kerrigan says. On IGTV, where all episodes are accessible after initially airing Live, the show has accumulated nearly 2 million views.
For Kerrigan, who says she has always loved to perform, starting an Instagram live show came naturally after spending two years on Refinery29’s Facebook Live team. And being single in a pandemic didn’t hurt as motivation while seeking virtual connections, either.
After a successful first season, Kerrigan was able to obtain sponsorships for the show from major brands including Bumble, Bev and Hint & Mumm Champagne, she says.
“After the success of Season 1, everyone asked me if I would sell the show to a network or streaming service,” Kerrigan says. “I decided against it because I wanted to maintain full control of the show, and I wanted to keep the live / commentary component.”
While she didn’t want to give up her authority over the show, she wanted to challenge the idea that a show with the same quality as a television show couldn’t live on Instagram.
“The intention for Season 2 was to prove that LFD is a legitimate show, but in order to do so, I needed a team, which meant I needed money,” she explains.
A month or so before the second season’s premiere her team built a deck to pitch to sponsors.
They were able to sell nearly the entire show to companies that had “a deep understanding” of her brand and her mission — they were all fun, empowering and authentic, qualities that make up the “LFD ethos,” according to Kerrigan.
“When it came to pitching to our brand sponsors, I did what I do with any project I work on: I believed in this show, and explained that not being part of it would be a huge mistake,” Kerrigan says.
But she approached branded content differently than many influencers do.
“Instead of seeing the brand partnership as a way to plug a product, I use it as a vehicle for telling a story about SFK, this character I created,” she explains. “From there, the product seamlessly integrates within each piece, so much so that some say they don’t even realize it’s an ad because of how entertaining it is.”
As a result, the “Let’s F*cking Date” has become profitable. Kerrigan’s selected sponsors have covered the show’s overhead expenses including production costs. Part of her motivation for acquiring sponsorships was to prove her dating show was more than “a weekly moment on Instagram Live.”
She aimed to create the first “real television show” but on the social media platform — something, she says, that hasn’t been done before to her knowledge.
“In order to do so, I knew we needed to invest in certain resources that would make the show have high production value,” she explains. “This meant sophisticated promo videos, creative marketing campaigns, graphics package, a theme song, and a full glam team (and yes, ball gowns too).”
And sponsorships weren’t the only key to make that happen.
She and her team initiated a “guerilla” marketing campaign, posting signs around New York City that read “Single Woman Looking for Love.” Then, Kerrigan’s followers picked up on it and requested the PDF file. She started to see them popping up in cities around the globe — in cities across the U.S., in Tokyo, London, Stockholm and Buenos Aires, among others.
For Kerrigan, it was mind blowing to see the reach the show had. And its audience was part of that growth.
“[My followers] enthusiasm and motivation to hang the posters further underscored how much the show was built around a very strong community that took ownership of the show’s success,” she says.
And Kerrigan’s audience is the reason the show works at all.
“Reality TV dating shows are typically hyper-produced, shot months in advance, and their authenticity comes into question,” she says. “The live component of Let’s Fucking Date, makes the audience feel like a fly on the wall, spying on a real date, in real time.”
That means awkward moments in front of thousands for Kerrigan and her assorted suitors. “I think the voyeuristic quality of the show is a huge draw. Further, the Instagram platform lends itself to audience engagement through the comments section. I can see commentary, questions and feedback from my mom, roommate, friends and fans, while I’m on the date.”
Her strategy and brand building with “Let’s F*cking Date” has gone beyond marketing it to brands. She’s created her own product, too: A card game designed for singles, couples, partners and groups of friends to play.
“The first time we sold the game, we presented it to the fans as a secret mystery product and we sold out in under 24 hours,” Kerrigan says. “Fans bought it without even knowing what product they were buying.”
After being available to her fans for a week she and her team released it to the public.
“[We] sold out thousands of units three separate times to the point where we could not keep up with the demand,” she notes, adding that she is no longer packaging the game in her New York City apartment.
“The LFD card game is the first tangible product I’ve created that allows my audience to bring their SFK energy out every time they play it, which is why it is so special to me,” Kerrigan says.
And she’s relaunched the game with a holiday edition — which she argues is the “ultimate” stocking stuffer.
Kerrigan hasn’t revealed whether a third season is on the horizon as she juggles other projects but she is putting together a Valentine’s special called “Cupid Is Stupid” and plans to expand the “Let’s F*cking Date” brand.
“I love how the ‘LFD’ brand is so strong – it stands apart from my own,” she says. “I want to explore different ways we can expand the brand other than just the show.”