Dating is a relatively new phenomenon in India, a country where marriages have traditionally been arranged by parents and relatives and continue to do so. However, with the advent of dating apps, the Indian matchmaking process has substantially changed. The younger generation no longer wants to rely upon their families to find themselves a suitable partner, instead, they look for their partners through dating apps.
From a marketing perspective, a new concept needs a concept-sell, which is all about relevance and the right positioning. However, when introducing an alien cultural practice, the task is more than just concept-sell, it is also culture change. Then, communication campaigns become vehicles for initiating and sustaining culture change, not just for switching consumers from one brand or product to another by highlighting features and benefits.
There are two broad product segments in the market – matrimonial apps such as Bharat Matrimony and Shaadi.com. And there are dating apps. Two apps largely dominate the Indian dating app market – Bumble and Tinder. Although both the apps are import from the US, they have ‘Indianised’ their presence in the market, by identifying the specificities of Indian culture and appropriating it to an extent. They have tried to build a rapport with the customer base by featuring Indian realities and using the resulting cultural and emotional connection to educate them about the concept of dating. Two other apps also play in the dating app segment, and these are OK Cupid (another Western import) and Aisle (an Indian app).
All brands explore different concepts or ideas of what dating stands for or represents. Their approaches to getting their viewpoint across to the public are also different. Here are some examples of their approaches:
Bumble’s idea is to initiate a discourse around dating that ‘normalizes’ it and thus takes away its ‘alien’ and ‘western’ image. It has done so by featuring approachable celebrities in its marketing communications and getting them to open up about their past dating experiences.
Bumble has positioned dating in the Indian context as an activity that fulfils our need for emotional intimacy. Its message is that dating allows people to be vulnerable with their partners and it provides a sort of emotional support that no other relationship can provide.
Dating These Nights with Vijay Varma and Srishti Dixit | Banking on Love
Bumble’s show ‘Dating these nights’ which has been platformed on its Youtube channel, gives a space for celebrities to express their emotions and be vulnerable. The subtext behind this is that Bumble is the go-to place to find like-minded people who allow you a space to be emotionally intimate with someone. This person could potentially become your partner because you share the trust and are on the same wavelength. The show has also targeted different segments of consumers by featuring guests from various socio-economic backgrounds and their experiences of dating in the Indian context. It had celebrities ranging from those who hail from tier-2 cities to the ones that come from privilege.
Though Bumble is also used as a ‘casual’ dating app; it has deliberately chosen not to address that aspect of the app in its communications since India is still quite a conservative country. However, at the same time, Bumble is also very much about inclusiveness as it showcases many varied kinds of people in its ads.
Tinder’s marketing is also very much about inclusiveness, but Tinder’s messaging for the Indian audience is more educational in nature.
We Need To Talk-A Film About Consent | Directed by Sonam Nair
In its recent communications, it has really tried to educate its audience about navigating consent in the sphere of romantic relationships. It does so through original short films and panel discussions featuring influencers talking about consent in relationships.
Tinder had earlier positioned itself as a ‘fun’ dating app through its ads, one of which was suitably titled – ‘adulting can wait’. It alluded to the nature of dating as a ‘fun’ activity rather than settling down and marrying someone which is more of an ‘adult’ activity. It is interesting to note that even though the ad alluded to casual dating, there was no mention of the word ‘casual’ or even an implication that dating has anything to do with sex.
However, in its more recent communications, Tinder has shifted away from associating itself as an app that facilitates relationships of a casual nature. Instead, by talking about consent Tinder tries to make itself seen as an app that facilitates positive change in dating culture, in a country where marital rape is still not criminalized.
Moving on (pun intended) from Bumble and Tinder, there are also other dating apps that have their own positioning in the Indian dating market. Aisle and OkCupid are two of them.
While OkCupid is yet another US-based dating app that has tried to adapt itself to the Indian market, Aisle is an Indian dating app that has tried to position itself as a ‘real’ dating app that is homegrown and for ‘Desis’.
Aisle’s messaging tries to say that Indians don’t date casually, and that casual dating is a foreign concept. Aisle intends to position itself as an app that gets people to date for an eventual marriage. Its tagline – ‘Nothing casual about this app’, clearly positions the app as more of a ‘serious’ dating app.
Aisle | Nothing Casual About This Dating App
Interestingly, the protagonists in all of Aisle’s ads are all women who are fed up with being asked by men to casually date them. The subtext in these ads is that in the Indian cultural context, women are the ones looking for a serious relationship while the men are just looking to hook up. While women want to put ‘labels’ on their relationships, men don’t want to do that. Men in Aisle’s ads are mostly friends of the woman who is the clear protagonist, these men are trying to support these women emotionally and are the ones asking them to look for good men on Aisle.
It is also pertinent to note that while Aisle is an Indian app, none of the ads features the protagonists talking in any of the native languages of India, all of them talk in English. The intention of using English in these ads is two-fold:
1. It becomes accessible to all Indians who know English and Aisle does not have to re-make the ads in Indian languages, since India has a very diverse landscape of languages.
2. English as a language in India is positioned as the language of the elites. The implication here clearly is that dating is a privileged affair. Only people from a certain class can access the dating market.
OkCupid is yet another US-based dating app that has tried to adapt itself to the Indian cultural context. OkCupid has tried to make all of its ads light and cheerful, it has tried to do so by featuring a lot of stand-up comedians in its ads. It does not touch upon ‘serious’ topics like consent like Tinder has tried to do.
Love Is Agreeing to Disagree Happily Feat. Shubham & Pratul | OkCupid India
The communications by OkCupid do not focus on the discourse around dating or educating an audience, but rather the message is that love is personal. They’ve showcased this through their ad campaign titled, ‘Love is…’. The entire campaign is built around defining how love is different for different people. There are multiple renditions of what love means to each couple. The element of humour is consistent in all these ads. The intention behind these ads is to give power to its audience and let them define their definition of love by using the app and exploring their romantic sides by finding a partner.
1.Dating apps are reshaping culture and creating a space for dating as a worthwhile activity for the younger generation by connecting the value and meaning of dating with different concepts. Dating as a space to practise “consent”, dating as a source of emotional support, Serious dating, NOT casual dating and dating as a pathway to experiencing romantic love as you like it to be…all are different dimensions to dating.
2. Branded content or advertising: The big-budget brands, Tinder and Bumble have made branded content their format of choice. They are focused on normalising dating, removing the negative stigmas of ‘hook-up’ culture and laying the grounds for the longer-term development of dating practices in India. The smaller brands, OK Cupid and Aisle use advertising to drive their positioning and attract users to their apps.
3. These apps also urge the Indian audience to choose a relationship that respects their emotional needs as well as boundaries while making the process of finding a romantic partner fun. Thus, they seek to give dating as an activity, a wholesome yet ‘light’ image which would make it more acceptable to a conservative culture, like that of India.
4. Steering change in a culturally sensitive area such as marriage and the milestones of life needs to be done with sensitivity and care to keep the right balance. The dating app communication teams seem to be well aware of their responsibilities in this regard.