On a Sunday afternoon recently in New York's Bryant Park, three men were sitting outside talking about the woes of dating.
"I found my soul mate, but then swiped left in hopes of finding a better looking soul mate," one joked.
The dark humor shows the serious problem that many young people around the world now face when it comes to online dating. Faced not only with myriad dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and Coffee Meets Bagel, many have become exhausted with dead-end conversation and even more dead-end swiping.
In fact, to some, online dating just feels … dead.
Today, Hinge—a dating app that uses mutual Facebook friends as a better filter for finding a better match—is launching an overhaul of the app that it says could help lead to more chats and, hopefully, more dates.
To promote the launch, Hinge created a two-minute animated short film equating dating apps to a carnival because Hinge's research found that many see dating apps as no more than a game. But it isn't your usual happy-go-lucky kind of place: Visitors walk around the dystopian Tim Burton-esque world. Everybody is hunched over, as if looking at their smartphone or beat from the exhaustion of swiping their love life away.
"This whole world was inspired by everything that we were seeing, and we felt that by doing an animated film," said Katie Hunt, Hinge's chief brand officer. "It kind of gave us license to have a bit more levity to talk about it and also sort of talk about it in a more abstracted way, which we were really attracted to."
The carnival—created in partnership with The Studio and Hinge's agency Red Antler—serves as a metaphor for online dating. There's the Cycle of Loneliness, a Ferris wheel with only one seat. There's a Catch a Catfish game where players must decide if a person is real or fake. And then there's the One Night Ride, a rollercoaster that lets the cars fly off the rails. There's even an eggplant pic tent where the curtain's drawn open as a man flashes a camera. That ride represents Hinge's research, which found 70 percent of women who use dating apps have received sexually explicit messages.
Haven't had enough fun yet? One sign points carnival-goers to head left to be ghosted or go right to the Mystery Kiss and the Wheel of Disappointment. And don't forget to stop by the Hall of Filters.
"When you see it as a ride, you see how absurd it is and yet we're participating in in," Hunt said.
In one particularly sad moment, the film's hero moves on through the park—past all the games and the conveyor belt of people being swapped in and out—to find another game called It's a Match where a pretty girl stands sadly on the other side of the booth, waiting to be swiped. The man swipes right, and just as they reach out to hold hands, a wooden board (bearing a devilish demon that looks strikingly similar to Tinder's logo) blocks their bliss. The game restarts with another girl that's clearly not his type.
Finally, he arrives at a secret door in the back, backlit with Hinge's logo and leads to a utopian world of couples where the carnival of dating hell is replaced with parks, ponds and plenty of love. In Hinge's world, couples hold hands, row boats and recreate famous romantic scenes in movies like Say Anything, Dirty Dancing and Ghost.
Finally, our hero meets his match—without even needing to swipe.
The idea came from a 2015 article in Vanity Fair titled Tinder and the Dawn of the 'Dating Apocalypse, which pointed out how many millennials are dissatisfied with the current climate of online dating. After reading that, Hinge created Hinge Lab as a dating R&D lab of sorts to better study what single people want and don't want.
The new version of the app, which will replace the free model with a $7-per-month subscription (after three months of free trials), takes some inspiration from Instagram by allowing those who match to comment on the photos a user has posted as a way to engage more organically.
According to Hinge, a beta version of the app tested by some users has seen twice as many connections, five times as many connections turning into conversations and seven times as many conversations turn into phone number exchanges. (No word on how many of those phone numbers actually led to real dates.) The conversations are also reportedly better, as they come from a "place of trust."
Hunt said the goal is that by providing something that people are willing to pay for, only the committed will stick around.
"In reality, people are really lonely and do want a connection with another person and do want to find someone," she said. "It's almost been taboo to say that and to go after that."