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Brands Make a Match With Dating Apps

20th Century Fox, Crunch Fitness test out new ads

For its Valentine’s Day campaign this year, Starbucks encouraged Match users to meet up for a latte or scone.

Twentieth Century Fox last week launched an ambitious ad campaign on Tinder for its forthcoming comedy Spy, underscoring how dating apps have been embraced not only by consumers but also top marketers.

The studio will offer fans in 50 cities the chance to catch an early screening of the June 5 release, starring Melissa McCarthy and Jude Law. Four of the movie's characters got fake Tinder accounts, and fans who "swipe right"—what people do on the app when they show they are interested in someone—can RSVP to attend a local screening.

"[With] straight mobile advertising, you don't really get an ROI other than a click-through," said Fox domestic theatrical marketing president Marc Weinstock. "With this, we'll have a pretty good idea of how many people signed up."

Advertising is still new territory for 3-year-old Tinder, with Bud Light running the app's first ads last month. The potential, however, appears tremendous, with analysts projecting Tinder's user base to grow to 30 million this year, up from the current 20 million. Tinder aims to build on the success other dating sites, including Match and Grindr, have had with advertising.

Over the past six months alone, ad revenue at Grindr, the leading location-based dating app in the gay community, has grown 65 percent, according to CEO Joel Simkhai. Clients include State Farm, HotelTonight and Crunch Fitness.

"In terms of the types of companies that advertise with us, it used to be smaller, $200 to $500 campaigns. Now we're seeing most of our revenue coming from campaigns that are over $5,000," Simkhai said.

When Crunch sought to promote trial memberships at new locations last year, it zeroed in on Grindr users in New York with ads geared at gay men who frequent gyms. "We liked the ability to be a little cheeky with our ads. It fit well with our brand personality," said Christina DeGuardi, svp of marketing, branding and communications at the chain. Crunch has since expanded the campaign to include Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami.

Meanwhile, Starbucks turned to Match for its Valentine's Day campaign this year, encouraging prospective couples to meet up for a latte or scone.

Despite growth in the category, Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Jason Helfstein noted that advertising is still a small revenue source for dating apps. In fact, 75 percent of Grindr revenue comes from its advertising-free paid app, which costs users about $10 a month.

And yet, the apps provide enormous opportunity for brands looking to cut through the clutter—and start a love affair of their own with consumers.

Noted Helfstein: "Advertisers are willing to experiment because there's acknowledgment that whoever figures it out first will have an advantage over their competitors."

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