Swipe left, swipe right, swipe up, swipe down. Everything just seems so, well, transactional these days. What ever happened to good old fashioned courting? Atmospheric dinner dates? Enthusiastic conversation interspersed with awkward silences?
Truth be told, there has been a recent flurry of break-ups here at Ewe HQ, with apps frantically being installed, profiles preened to within an inch of data limits and lunch breaks hijacked for consultation on all things romance.
Depending on your perspective, the rise of digital dating is either a blessing or a curse, but whichever way you lean its allure is difficult to avoid when single. Indeed the offer of thousands of other lonely hearts looking for someone to love, all at the click of a button, is perhaps the ultimate in instant gratification.
The irony is that while the sheer size of the online dating pool before you allows for an introduction to countless people you’d never encounter in the 'real world', it also forces you to be hyper selective with the matches you choose to chat to. We’ve come a long way since personal advertisements in 1960s newspapers were your sole way of finding a soulmate; match.com launching in the mid nineties ushered in the online dating world, albeit desktop-centric, but it was the advent of Grindr in 2009 that heralded the brave new world of native dating apps and the now continual development of new platforms, all with their own unique approach, spin or mechanisms.
It could be said that we’re now living in a time where meeting someone through an app or exchanging a few suggestive Snapchats feels more ‘natural’ than approaching someone in a bar, introducing yourself and coyly asking for a number. Yet, in the ever-evolving world of marketing and advertising, dating apps are becoming more than just a space in which to find a potential love interest. Rather, they've quickly become an opportunity for brands and organisations looking to gain exposure in front of an open-minded audience and make the most of a group of users who are less likely to be passively engaged with whichever app it is they're using, as is increasingly the norm with so much of smartphone usage.
Despite the wide variety of dating apps available, they all have two things in common: helping you find love and native advertising. Whether an individual is in the classic ‘rebound’ stage, quietly assessing the marketplace or conducting a long-term partner search, these apps offer an ideal space for brands to connect with people on a regular basis (perhaps more regular for Mr or Mrs Rebound).
A great past example of native advertising within a dating app was the 2014 match.com “Meet At Starbucks” collaboration which enabled members to send a coffee date invite with just one dedicated button and also add a brand badge to their profile to communicate to other users their love for encounters centred around skinny lattes and venti americanos. Hundreds of dates happened as a result, with a handful of ‘success couples’ even sparking longer term relationships off the back of a first date in their local Starbucks.
Tinder has been offering brands a platform for audience targeting and awareness for a number of years. On Valentine’s Day in 2014, Dominos UK created a Tinder profile which offered incentives for swiping right (and thereby giving a clear brand-positive signal in the process). Embracing the more cringeworthy side of Tinder exchanges, users had to start a ‘punny conversation’ with the profile in order to be in with the chance to win free pizza and other discounts. According to Iris Worldwide, this campaign resulted in a social reach of more than 200,000 and a total of 700 matches, giving early indications that digital daters were receptive to incorporating more commercial activity within the very private space of the app.
Tinder hasn’t only run light-hearted ads and fun campaigns - it has also been used to highlight more serious topics and raise awareness of pertinent social issues. The Immigrant Council of Ireland commissioned what would go on to be an award-winning campaign to make the effects of sex trafficking more widely known; they set up fake profiles which showed a series of photos reflecting the reality for victims and providing a link to how users could help the cause.
Eighttwenty/Immigrant Council of Ireland (2014)
In a platform reversal of sorts, Tinder competitor Bumble launched a billboard advertising campaign of its own in 2017 encouraging women to be the CEO, not date the CEO - and not to be afraid of making the first move. (The main feature of the Bumble app is that after a couple matches, it is the woman who must send the first message to the man within 24 hours or they lose the match.)
While breaking out from its native app and taking advantage of more traditional advertising methods, this campaign retained the platform’s core brand message of empowering women to not only make the first move but be proactive in all aspects of their lives, seizing the initiative as the rule, not the exception.
It's one thing for dating platforms to offer up advertising space to other brands who seek to make the most of a hyper-engaged audience (albeit tuned into other people, rather than brands) but another thing entirely for the organisation itself to branch out into self-promotion through a concerted brand message. A key component of successful brand strategy has always been to create a mission and purpose larger than the product or service in question, so it seems apt for Bumble to position itself as a champion of female empowerment and conviction outside of its existence as one of many other dating apps available.
Another well-known dating app, Happn, focusses on urban centres and is all about meeting people users have crossed paths with in real life. Similar to the sex trafficking awareness campaign run on Tinder, this app has also used its platform to make a difference for social causes by teaming up with organisations such as Equality Now and Plan UK.
Equality Now ran a campaign for International Women’s Day in March 2016 which focussed on the staggeringly high statistic that globally one-in-three women will suffer physical or sexual abuse at some point in their lives. Where the Immigrant Council of Ireland’s feature on Tinder showed a women displaying progressively stronger signs of being a victim of abuse, the Equality Now campaign put a more positive spin on the idea.
Equality Now (2016)
The initial image that showed up in users’ feeds was taken from a range of women with black eyes, but on closer inspection of the profile and viewing further photos the signs of violence and abuse gradually healed, indicating how the collective situation for victims and those at risk can only improve if overall awareness across the public increases.
Continuing the theme of interpersonal relations, Plan UK took a novel angle for raising awareness of forced child marriage. By manipulating the app’s mechanics so that a profile for a ‘Mark, 32’ couldn’t physically be rejected, they highlighted the fact that marriage is sadly not a choice for many young women, many of whom are minors. Text on the profile stated ‘it’s hard to imagine having one option, so whether you like it or not Mark’s sticking around’.
Within the more customary product promotion space, Happn has also worked with brands like Fiat where they created two ‘Mr Fiat 500’ and ‘Miss Fiat 500’ accounts over the Valentine's Day period, giving users the opportunity to enter a draw to win a romantic trip to Rome. A platform such as a dating app allows a car brand to sidestep the need to focus directly on the vehicle itself and instead play on customer profiling and characterisation, not to mention connect traditional romance with the kind of nostalgic love that people reserve for the little Italian motor.
Although we are by now well and truly embedded in an age of mobile technology, there are certainly a number of downsides to digital dating. With such a high volume of potential matches out there the choice can be overwhelming and, for the lucky ones amongst us, managing hundreds of messages per day across various apps can be a distinct possibility, rendering the exercise more like good old fashioned admin than any kind of romantic pursuit. In addition, the extra precautions that should be considered when meeting up with someone acquainted through an app wouldn’t necessarily apply when introduced through a mutual friend, work colleauge or similar.
That said, as the digi-dating landscape continues to evolve, specialisation and atomisation seems to be the order of the day as opposed to the more generic catch-all apps. Catering to an array of tastes there now exists the following:
It’s clear that dating apps have thus far offered brands and organisations a novel way of sculpting their promotion or awareness campaigns, be it in terms of concept, format or outcome, but if this foray into more interest-lead dating apps continues it will only increase the scope for more powerfully targeted content, promotions and calls-to-action for brands looking to make the most of people looking for love.
That said, we wouldn't bet against the more mainstream plaforms like Tinder, Happn and Bumble only cementing their foothold and strengthening their advertising structure for brands to connect with audiences on an ever-more nuanced level. In addition, we predict that wider awareness campaigns and brand missions across these apps are brought increasingly to the fore, as each looks to carve out its own niche amongst the competition.
In the meantime, you can find Ewe at the bar. We're a cheap date.
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