Matthew Keegan
Nov 30, 2022

How dating apps master the art of marketing matchmaking

We explore how dating apps set themselves apart in a crowded space and manage to beat Cupid at his own game.

A billboard by Bumble in Singapore.
A billboard by Bumble in Singapore.

With the explosion of dating apps in recent years, Cupid must be well and truly burnt out. Whether it’s swiping right or left, grinding, bumbling, lunching, blind dating… there seems to be as many dating apps these days as there are daters themselves.

According to Data.ai, dating app global downloads have increased 173% from 293 million in the first half of 2017 to 799 million in the first half of 2022. During this same time period, global consumer spends on dating apps increased 320%, from US$643 million to US$2.7 billion.

That's a lot of dating. How do these apps set themselves apart in such a crowded market? Aren't daters overwhelmed by choice?

"Dating apps give singles what we call ‘the paradox of choice’: when we have too many choices, we tend to have analysis paralysis and end up not making any choice," says Violet Lim, co-founder and CEO of Lunch Actually Group.

Dating fatigue

Lim, who founded matchmaking company Lunch Actually in 2004—now the largest dating agency in Southeast Asia—adds that dating apps can be very superficial and the question of compatibility is not prioritised.

“Judging matches based on a profile picture means you tend to not prioritise aspects such as similar values and if the relationship would survive in the long run,” says Lim. “Therefore, you may spend too much time talking to people only to find out that they are not compatible later on. This leads to dating fatigue which singles are facing now."

Lunch Actually, who launched their app in 2021, differentiate themselves from others by focusing on handpicked matches and real dates, rather than casual dating.

"We believe there is still value to a dating service like us—the human touch, strict verification and personalised service," says Lim.

With Lunch Actually, experienced matchmakers go through extensive interviews to identify what a client wants and needs in a relationship before setting them up with a match on a blind date.

"Importantly, we match based on compatibility in values which is what truly matters in a long-lasting relationship," says Lim. "There is no swiping and chatting in our app. It’s because we believe simply swiping and chatting does not result in a real match or date. We focus on handpicked matches and real dates.”

Standing out

Like the singles using their apps, the dating apps themselves have to compete to stand out in an increasingly crowded market. While many dating apps focus on the casual side of dating, apps like Coffee Meets Bagel are entirely dedicated to helping daters find serious relationships.

"Our north star as a company is how many serious relationships we’re able to help create," says Jackie Anzaroot, marketing manager at Coffee Meets Bagel. "This might seem contradictory to the typical app monetisation approach of keeping users coming back to the app. However, we strongly believe in our mission of helping our daters find love, and a happy by-product of that is positive word of mouth that drives further growth."

As an ongoing campaign to support their focus on helping daters find a serious relationship, Coffee Meets Bagel continually celebrates their #CMBcouples—couples who have met and formed serious relationships on the app—and this continues to drive word of mouth.

"We do our best to support CMB success stories even after they’ve moved on from the app," says Anzaroot. "In fact, recently we had our founder and CEO officiate a wedding for one of our CMB couples."

For the Bumble dating app, which was founded in 2014 by CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd and recently surpassed 100 million downloads across iOS and Google Play (worldwide), their mission has been to flip dating traditions on its head, and create a platform where women make the first move, with the hypothesis being that this would lead to kinder and more respectful conversations and relationships.

"What sets us apart is that Bumble is the only dating app that empowers women by putting them in control of their interactions," says Lucille McCart, APAC communications director at Bumble.

"Women make the first move by opening the conversation, setting the tone for kind and respectful connections. This means women are entirely in control of who they engage with, and unwanted messages or advances are not tolerated.”

Clear brand messaging has been essential to Bumble's success. “Without clear brand messaging that reflects our mission and product offering, we would not have been able to encourage women around the world to make the first move on Bumble nearly two billion times,” says McCart.

Bumble's 'It Starts with Hello' campaign


OkCupid is one of the original dating apps, and Michael Kaye, head of global communications, says there's a reason why the app has been around for nearly 20 years and still has millions of users in more than 100 countries globally.

"We cater to a higher-intent dater," says Kaye. "OkCupid matches people on what matters to them through in-app questions that power our algorithm and connect you with people we know you are most compatible with."

And Kaye adds that OKCupid is an inclusive dating app, which has also set it apart. "We were the first leading dating app to create a dedicated space on profiles for LGBTQ+ daters to share their pronouns, the first to offer expanded gender and orientation options, and we now have definitions available in-app for each of these identities to help people understand what these terms mean, and better serve all our users,” he says.

Furthermore, OkCupid is always thinking about how their campaigns can be completely ownable. One example is how they leveraged a single insight to drive earned media coverage around the world.

"On our app, 97% of daters believe climate change is real and more than 8 in 10 singles are concerned about it," says Kaye. "We leveraged that data point to pitch a data-driven story only OkCupid could tell, which was that singles are matching online over a shared passion for the environment.”

To amplify its earned efforts, the app created its first-ever dating term: ‘Thunberging’.

"There’s already been hundreds of stories about our data on this topic since December 2019, with the latest article published in September 2022," adds Kaye. "That’s almost three years’ worth of earned media coverage from one single pitch."

The challenges of playing Cupid

Marketing any app can present its fair share of challenges, not least when you're playing Cupid. For Bumble, in particular, they have had a job to do in challenging traditional gender roles.

A study Bumble commissioned earlier this year, titled the Romance Gap, found that around the world there is still pressure on men to be responsible for making the big moves when it comes to forming and progressing romantic relationships. In Singapore, 87% of people surveyed believed that men should take the lead and only 7% said that this is what is expected of women.

"Shifting cultural norms around dating and gender roles is an enormous task, so a lot of our campaign strategies focus on normalising making connections online while also challenging some of the more traditional ideas," says McCart. "The goal being to drive brand awareness for Bumble through localised and culturally relevant story telling."

Bumble has seen success with campaigns like 'It Starts With Hello' that ran in Philippines and Singapore. Based on Bumble's core mission to empower women to make the first move, the campaign was driven by the insight that some Gen Z and millennial women might be overwhelmed by the idea of starting the conversation on Bumble, so the campaign encourages them to overcome their hesitation by making it as simple as typing ‘hello’. The campaign was brought to life via four short-form content pieces that capture what breaking barriers and making moves can look like for Southeast Asian women, whether it is inviting someone on a date to the Mercato (night market) or to a karaoke session.

Another successful campaign for Bumble was 'Girls Will Be Girls', which ran in Australia—based on the insight that the freedom that comes from the saying ‘boys will be boys’ is rarely given to women.

"At Bumble we wanted to envision what ‘girls will be girls’ would look like, reminding our audience that they can live how they want and make the first move," says McCart. "The campaign aimed to reflect the lived experiences of Australian women and their dating journeys, and reflected on the power that comes from making the first move, while also serving to remind audiences that dating is meant to be fun."

For OkCupid, the challenges in marketing their app are unique to each market. "In Turkey, it’s illegal to market as a dating app, and the country is not as LGBTQ+ friendly as other markets we are operating in, like Germany, Israel or the United States," says Kaye. "But that just pushes us to be even more creative and innovative. For example, this past June we participated in a Pride Month celebration held in the metaverse, which was organised by one of Turkey's leading LGBTQ+ publications, GMag."

Keeping it fun and local

Tinder, the largest dating app in the world, has been downloaded more than 530 million times and is available in nearly every country in the world with more than 40 languages.

The app has strived to inject fun and awe in their campaigns across the APAC region, giving them local relevance. In Japan, where 'conbini' (convenience stores) are quintessential to youth culture, Tinder recently launched Swipe Mart, where young Japanese singles could experience ‘youth in a heartbeat’ accompanied by a brand video that showcases the possibilities of youth. In Ho Chi Minh City, where young adults prefer to hangout outside, they took to the streets with a Tinder Explore bus to celebrate outdoor dating and hotspots that the locals loved.

Tinder's SwipeMart in Tokyo


Tinder has also launched some of its new features in APAC first such as 'Interests', which gave young people in APAC a means to connect over shared passions. In Korea where personality tests are very popular amongst young people—it is common knowledge amongst a group of friends if someone is an ENFP or ISTJ—Tinder has integrated these descriptors so that members can opt to share them with potential members. 

"Our focus in APAC is to be respectful of cultural differences and be the brand that finds ways to give young people a way to integrate online dating into their lives in a way that is more acceptable and accessible here in the region," says Papri Dev, head of communications at Tinder APAC.

OkCupid has also achieved success through localisation using in-app questions that powers an algorithm and connects people who are most compatible.

"These questions have been answered nearly 10 billion times since we launched our app," says Kaye. "And we have localised questions in more than 30 markets around the world because we understand what’s top of mind for someone in Los Angeles or New York City is different from what people care about in London, Paris, Berlin, Tel Aviv, Istanbul or Sydney."

And while Cupid must be overworked with all these dating apps, there appears to be no sign of slowing down.

"The world, especially one after the pandemic, is only going to be increasingly digital in the way that we form new relationships and connections," says Tinder’s Dev. "The constraints of Covid had more young people connect in digital ways more often."

And Lunch Actually has taken the challenges brought on by lockdowns and social restrictions during Covid to transform and reinvent.

"We introduced virtual dates and virtual coaching—which proved to be great alternatives for singles to still be able to meet new people during Covid," says Lim. "We have arranged over 1000 virtual dates and even had successful couples who got together after meeting through a virtual date for the first time.”

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