Ab tumhari shaadi ki umar ho gai hai — This is arguably the favourite statement of most Indian parents and the most dreaded one for young adults. Be it the relatives you have never heard of or the neighbours you don’t care about, everyone wants you to get married and interestingly, brands want the same. From a shaadi.com to a Bumble to an event management company, they all promote the idea of finding a ‘partner’ and Indians seem to be taking the bait.
Brand strategist Ambi M G Parameswaran tells BE, “The business of ‘match-making’ has grown multiple arms. From the days of the traditional astrologers who went around with prospective bios, today we have society folks playing this role of match-making. The traditional stronghold of classified matrimonial ads in newspapers has shrunk, but has not totally disappeared. Online matrimonial websites have had a great run and one of them is even a listed company (Matrimony.com) and another (Jeevansathi.com) is part of a very successful listed company.”
Business, as they say, is booming. Data show the online matrimony platform business is set to cross $20 billion this year and how would it not. These platforms charge a fee in the range of Rs 10,000 to 10 lakh to help you find the right match.
With competition growing rapidly, not just from rival matrimony apps, but also the new-age dating platforms such as Bumble, Tinder, OKCupid and tonnes of others, brands have been deploying a huge resource in promotions to up their charm.
With over a million views on YouTube, brand campaigns such as “Ladka Acha Hai” by Jeevansathi are drawing increased traction. Not just the youngsters, but even parents are actively involved on these platforms to find a suitable groom or bride for their children (maybe themselves, too), thanks to growing internet penetration.
Jeevansathi, which recently launched video on profiles, claims to have over 10 million exchanges every year. “Trust and safety form the core of match-making. With the help of AI and ML capability, we try to bring the relevant profiles upfront. The idea is to move past the photo profiles that matchmaking platforms in India have limited themselves to so far and help users make a more informed decision,” Rohan Mathur, business head, Jeevansathi.com tells BE.
Shaadi.com’s ‘Shayad.com se Nikaliye aur Shaadi.com pe Aaiye’ campaign is a clear push to show how it offers stable results than maybe a dating app.
“Matrimony apps have started recognising shifts in consumer choices and are doing a lot in providing better control to the two partners. This is done through detailed Aadhaar verified profiles, capturing preferences and various other details that help them connect better through their online chatting options. We also see the emergence of a new phenomenon termed “arranged love marriages”, where the matrimonial site helps in two people meeting, but does not follow the traditional journey of parents meeting to set a marriage date,” says Abijit Avasthi, co-founder of marketing consultancy Sideways.
“With the new-age customer, we need to make the shift from being an ‘enabler brand’ to a brand that ‘empowers’ people to take control. From an accessibility standpoint, while television continues to be our primary reach driver, digital acquisition channels are becoming increasingly important to drive salience and work as frequency builders with the new-age customer,” says Adhish Zaveri, director – marketing, Shaadi.com.
Reach of Niche
The ever-evolving consumer choices have also given birth to niche companies that deal with very particular set of criterions of the clients. IITIIMShaadi, which started operations in 2014, is one such brand. The company claims to have 86,000 members presently and sees itself reach 1 lakh by the next quarter. “We invite registration from alumni of top few Indian and global Institutions irrespective of the field of study,” says the description its website. However, the norms for women are, as the website says, “marginally relaxed”. “For females, we have also included a select list of graduation colleges on all-India basis.”
So, if you are a man without a dazzling degree, you might not get lucky here.
The demand for exclusive matches is such that some platforms such as EliteMatrimony charge as much as Rs 10 lakh in subscription fee.
And as one would imagine, these niche weddings are getting grander by the day.
“Though the general economic slowdown has had its effect on the wedding business, too, but with the whole idea of trying to be different, things tend to only get more elaborate. Trends on the rise now include concepts of destination pre-wedding celebrations that entail travelling with close family and friends to an international destination for a luxurious 2/3day celebration,” says Trrishant Sidhwaani director of a wedding planning agency DreamzKrraft.
However, it’s not just about the riches. Innumerable groups on social media platforms such as Facebook catering to particular castes still thrive. Be it a Brahmin Matrimony group or a Kayastha one, most of these boast of thousands of members – mostly parents – who post their child’s data seeking an eligible groom or bride.
Platforms such as BharatMatrimony, too, have various regional divisions such as TamilMatrimony to GujaratiMatrimony to cater to requirements of different regions.
Parameswaran sums it up, “As we saw in the movie Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, most of the Indian youth wants it both ways. They want to marry someone who they love, but with parental approval…Wedding market in India is continuing to boom. Even in a state like Kerala where a wedding normally lasts a few minutes, today you have three day affairs. The general media attention to celebrity weddings is helping fuel the frenzy.”
It’s a ‘Match’ or Is It?
In most developed nations across the world, dating apps have been thriving for a while now. As one might have expected, apps such as Tinder, Bumble, OKCupid etc saw decent success in India, too. However, there has often been a debate over whether these apps serve the purpose they are known for globally or are they trying too hard to adapt to the Indian narrative.
“Dating is still a very urban, metro-city phenomenon. I would suspect a pure dating site like Bumble finds takers only in the metro cities. And even if they do find users in smaller cities, it is likely that it is seen as a more ‘modern’ form of Shaadi.com,” founder of BrandBuilding.com, Ambi Parameswaran tells BE.
Tinder, for example, is often seen as primarily ‘a hook-up app’, but the brand has been actively trying to promote itself as one that enables people of all backgrounds and sexual orientation to start something new.
The Priyanka Chopra-backed Bumble, too, has been promoting itself as an app to build new connections, which in the Indian context may lead to something substantial.
“The dating app industry in India is highly fragmented. On one side, there are many global apps focused on dating, and on the other, there are local players focused on dating or matrimony. Bumble saw an opportunity to play in the middle…Through our campaign ‘Dating Just Got Equal’, we aim to support the women of India as they create a new normal in the world of dating so that rather than second-guessing themselves, they are empowered to make the first move,” Priti Joshi, vice president, strategy, Bumble tells us.
Shaadi.com’s director – marketing, Zaveri, however, sees no overlap, “We see them (dating apps) as fairly niche services that address a very different demographic and need. If you look at the data, it will tell you that these are fundamentally different life-stage products.”
We don’t filter the profiles. We let our machines do it. Apart from Tech, Data Science is another area where we’ve invested over the years and we believe that it will play a pivotal role in improving the matchmaking experience of our members. We have over 100 Ai/ML algo models churning around a billion data points on our systems at any given time.
Adhish Zaveri, director, marketing, Shaadi.com
“While a majority of the campaigns still focus on parent’s responsibility, a girl looking for an ideal partner, portrayal of a happily married life, there are some movements in challenging these gender stereotypes and moving away from the conventional codes. A few brands are slowly moving towards a more modern, progressive view of marriage by depicting equality amongst couples, parents taking a back seat and being facilitators rather than driving the whole process actively.”
Abhijit Avasthi, co-founder, Sideways
We are relevant for a very niche segment but in that segment, we are the preferred website. As far as any competition from dating apps is concerned, I don’t think it’s a cause of concern for us. About half the people on a matrimonial platform are actually parents, who are managing the account on behalf of their children. So, that segment remains completely unimpacted by dating sites.
Taksh Gupta, CEO, iitiimshaadi
“More and more people globally are meeting their romantic partners online owing to widespread access to technology, education and financial independence. We’re noticing similar adoption in India as well wherein 41 million Indian singles, that’s nearly 50% of the 2011 census single population, will be on dating apps and actively looking for relationships by 2022.”
Priti Joshi, VP – strategy, Bumble
Online dating is like shopping at a fast fashion retail store. The advertising and the potential gets you really excited and hopeful while entering. One tries out as many outfits and as quickly as possible, only to realise that there’s nothing that you really loved at first sight, or second or even third. On the other hand, matrimonial websites are akin to campus placements whose random, competitive and matter-of-fact nature makes you feel like you are sitting on a time-bomb. The more template-oriented approach one applies, the easier it become to navigate the system. The rather misplaced norm of taking the dating apps too casually and matrimonial websites too seriously results in a litany of inconsequential and dispassionate weekends for many of the youngsters these days.
Arpita Singh, 28, Mumbai-based banker
Finding a match online makes a lot of sense considering the ease of the process online. Whether that online match translates into the real world is different story. Especially in the Indian context, when parents and siblings have as much of a say in your choice of partner as you do, it’s the actual connection that you build with the person that will need to stand the test of the Indian societal norms. Having said that, things are changing and I have seen a few instances where couples who met virtually sustain and grow partnership in the real world, too.
Shreya Mathur, 27, Toronto-based auditor
We have literally submitted ourselves to technology. Allowing apps to work as assistance for us in shopping, dining, commuting so why not in find a life partner/romantic liaison or even just a friend. Dating/Matrimonial apps are great tools of meeting like-minded people outside your professional/personal friends circle and just helps connect two individuals which could possibly have a great interpersonal outcome eventually. I strongly believe in a quote by Rumi which says, “What you are seeking is seeking you” so if you believe in the power of finding yourself a good partner on an application and get onto it, you’ll sure find what you are seeking. Dating/Matrimony apps are the best way to find your own partners without interference from your parents.
Sahil Kajale, 26, Mumbai-based film editor