Best Practices: How to Woo Mobile Daters

Advice for Marketers Courting Consumers With Romance Apps

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More brand advertisers may soon join the online dating fray, lured by a fast-growing, engaged consumer segment.

IPG Media Lab has released a report advising advertisers chasing those consumers who have shifted online dating to smartphones. The report follows a similar white paper IPG, part of the Interpublic Group, published in April on social messaging apps. Mobile dating, the report claims, is tracing a similar trajectory of rapid growth, commanding increasing attention from young audiences. It's a shift marketers can't ignore.

"Here's another group of apps that are forming their own media ecosystem based purely on its size," said Melvin Wilson, head of strategy at IPG Media Lab and co-author of the report.

IPG examined three of the largest platforms: Tinder, the dating app owned by IAC/InterActiveCorp; HowAboutWe, a platform for couples; and Grindr, an app for gay and bisexual men. Tinder claims to register 750 million interactions -- it has a 'swipe' feature for flipping through potential suitors -- per day. By comparison, Twitter claims 500 million tweets per day. The category's growth, Mr. Wilson claimed, will mimic Twitter's trajectory. Each dating service began as a utility but can, like Twitter has, morph into a richer, ad-selling media platform

As media platforms, romance apps are still in the early, awkward phase. Executives at Tinder, whose influence inside of IAC has swelled recently, have allowed a few promotional campaigns and expressed interest in running more native advertising within the app. (Its executives are also dealing with a sexual harassment lawsuit.)

"Right now, brands are kind of hacking the apps to create they're own experiences," Mr. Wilson said.

Here, three key lessons for brands looking to court mobile daters.

Lead with a pretty face
Online dating is a vanity game. And the first advertisers to arrive on mobile apps have taken note. Fox ran promotions for "The Mindy Project" show on Tinder, creating dating profiles for its lead characters; USA tried something similar with the show "Suits." Marketers should enter with a clear, recognizable spokesperson, IPG advised in its report -- after all, mobile dating, particularly Tinder, is built on snap judgments. It helps to have attractive endorsers. Although the rules can be bent: HBO teased its show "The Walking Dead" on Tinder with handsome models that quickly morphed into zombies.

Reward people for their attention
Mobile romance can offer advertisers several chances to enter into the courtship. Advertising on the apps, the report writes, should focus on value exchange: "offer people a discount, a sneak peek or even a funny moment to reward people for their attention." Domino's, for instance, ran a discount campaign on Tinder for Valentine's Day. Retail brands may soon be able to join the fray, as apps like HowAboutWe expand offerings to rope in location-based offerings from restaurants and venues. One day soon, a couple could connect on an app like Tinder, and then be served an ad from a neighborhood flower shop.

A Domino's campaign on Tinder.
A Domino's campaign on Tinder.

Don't come on too strong
Social media is a personal space, where advertisers must tread carefully. Online dating is even more intimate. Some marketers have used this intimacy to their advantage -- health advocacy organizations have run campaigns on Grindr aimed at sexual health information. But most advertisers should be mindful of this line, IPG advised. Domino's can rake in new shoppers on Valentine's Day; but it can't run a romantic promotion every week. "At some point, the brand has to step away," Mr. Wilson said.

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