When the Pew Research Center first polled folks about online dating in 2005, it heard crickets—it was either too new or too embarrassing to admit. Now, thanks to the rise of smartphones and the destimagization of finding love online, 15 percent of U.S. adults say they have used online dating sites or mobile apps, according to a 2016 survey by the center. Since 2013, usage has tripled among young adults (ages 18 to 24) and doubled among older adults (ages 55 to 64). But despite the increase, many online daters still gripe about the lack of “IRL” connections.
To help encourage more face-to-face matchmaking, dating sites and apps like OKCupid, Bumble, and Tinder are introducing—or expanding—their presence at events like food and music festivals.
Couple Alert: OKCupid & Pitchfork
Of the three big dating sites, OKCupid might be considered the event-industry virgin, having just entered its first major sponsorship with this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago in July. The Match Group-owned site, which is in the midst of a branding refresh, is known for its extensive, more wordy dating profiles and thought-provoking questions in comparison to other photo-centric sites. “Substance over selfie—that’s the message we want to get across,” says Bernadette Libonate, senior marketing manager at OKCupid.
Which is why the brand teamed up with Pitchfork. Libonate explains that OKCupid users, who are typically “creative, down-to-earth” types with strong interests in music, food, and art, meshed well with the demographic of the music festival, which boasts a “multicultural, substantive” crowd. “Coachella is a Bumble girl,” Libonate quips about the competitive dating site, which activated at the Southern California music festival this year.
For its first Pitchfork activation, OKCupid was integrated into the festival’s app, allowing daters to connect via a geofenced “neighborhood.” A badge also appeared on users’ profiles to indicate that they had arrived. In addition, the dating site constructed a “Feel Good Tent” where users could meet up, snap a photo, and then answer questions in order to find a like-minded festivalgoer. Libonate explains that the company wanted to bring the online experience to life, and “showcase what the platform does, what we bring to the table, and what our competitors don’t.”
Couple Alert: Bumble & Coachella
In comparison, Bumble created a more polished, over-the-top experience at Coachella in April with its snow-filled “Winter Bumbleland” in the desert, which was produced by marketing agency FlyteVu. Held at Rancho Mirage, the two-day event, which was hosted by Kendall Jenner, Kylie Jenner, and Ashley Graham, featured an ice bar, a glacier pool, a snow angel garden, a ski chairlift-theme photo booth, a braid bar, winter tubing, a customized interactive 3-D igloo, and snow-theme cocktails and eats. The app also provided Bumble-branded buses to pick up guests in the area.
“Our goal is to continually provide value to new and existing Bumble users,” explains Chelsea Maclin, Bumble’s director of marketing. “We knew many of our users attend and are interested in Coachella and wanted to provide them with a unique, creative, and positive experience.”
Couple Alert: Tinder & Delta
Crowded festivals serve as a smart recruitment tool for these brands by offering a captive audience, but Tinder recently took a different marketing approach when it partnered with Delta Air Lines. Dubbed the “Delta Dating Wall,” the joint activation included a series of painted walls with illustrations of international locations; the backdrops aimed to provide fodder for new profile pictures.
Tinder, which is also owned by the Match Group, could be viewed as an innovator in the online dating marketplace with its introduction of the photo-heavy swipe right/left concept that many other apps have now adopted. The wall—which was part of Delta’s “New York Is Go” initiative, celebrating its New York travelers—was located on Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, throughout the summer.
“Dating apps have become an integral part of dating in New York, and we were inspired to create this campaign by a common theme we found among New Yorkers’ online profiles: travel,” explains William Betz, general manager of brand communications for Delta Air Lines. “Given Tinder‘s popularity, they were a natural partner to work with to create a compelling way for consumers to engage with Delta.”
In addition, Delta and Tinder hosted a singles-centric event, in which guests could get their photos taken by a professional photographer. (Tinder’s other summer activation, a party home in the Hamptons, was not as well received, with reports that it lacked proper permits and was too rowdy for neighbors.)
Like any good date, connecting through shared interests and passions like travel and music seems to be the key strategy for all of these brands. “Dating is supposed to be fun,” Libonate says. “We want to create those good vibes.”