Tracey Furniss
Feb 12, 2009

Live Issue... Advertisers lose their ardour for online dating sites

With Valentine's Day approaching, online dating sites are gearing up for a rush of business.

Live Issue... Advertisers lose their ardour for online dating sites
The online dating industry has boomed in recent years - in China it has even been growing at a rate of 60 per cent a year, according to iResearch. So with users flocking to the sites, are advertisers following?

Apparently not. Interestingly, online advertisers seem to be turning away from dating, switching their attention toward social networking. “Dating sites regionally as well as globally have been losing advertising revenue to social networks sites in recent years”, says Napoleon Biggs, managing consultant for Palava Digital. 

That matches a broader trend away from sites that can only provide display slots, according to Pixel Media CEO Kevin Huang. “People are turning away from passive engagement to interactive opportunities.” 

Sources at online sites say that ad networks - companies that place advertising on the net for brands by targeting an audience demographic rather than a particular site - find too many restrictions when considering placements on dating sites. Such restrictions include close scrutiny by the sites of commercial messages, as they do not want ads to interrupt online conversation. Local dating sites are also said to be wary of rivals from other parts of the world placing banners on their sites to generate more traffic for themselves. 

Asia’s online dating industry is still in its infancy, compared to the US, where the industry is worth more than half a billion dollars. It is also fragmented. According to Hitwise, Hong Kong’s top three online dating sites are HK2Love (13 per cent market share), followed by Yahoo Hong Kong Personals (12 per cent) and ECFriend (12 per cent). In Singapore, the lead is Adult Friendfinder (17 per cent), followed by SingaporeLoveLinks (six per cent) and MSN Dating (six per cent). Besides these, there are high-end subscription sites such as, which currently has 2,500 subscribers with around 150,000 hits a year alongside offline business Lunch Actually - where mid to high-income couples meet over lunch – in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. 

For the sites, carrying ads is proving less of a money-spinner than utilising databases of high-earning professionals and executives. “We do not sell our database to advertisers as all client information is confidential,” says Eteract founder Violet Lim. “However, advertisers can tap on our monthly newsletters to reach our clients. And for online and offline dating, advertisers can buy electronic direct mail.” 

Another opportunity for brands is to tie with a dating site to organise events. Lim works with other industry players to hold regular themed events such as Revel, a large-scale singles party in Singapore which attracts a wide variety of sponsors such as Bacardi for the drinks. The annual Valentine’s Day event The Bedazzled - a gala dinner for singles - has attracted such sponsors as Bio-Essence and Silkygirl this year.

So while dating in Asia begins to move online, the key to success for brands may still lie in meeting face- to-face.
Campaign Asia

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