Native advertising on Tinder: A step too far?

Experts from Droga5, Carat, Mcgarrybowen and TBWA discuss the opportunities and pitfalls of native advertising on the hookup app

Building personal relationships with consumers is the Holy Grail for brands. And there are more touch points than ever before for brands to connect with their customers. But this opportunity around context-driven advertising, loosely defined as native advertising, presents a new set of challenges.

Take Tinder: Are users trawling the app for potential dates, hookups and love interests really going to want to swipe right when they see a brand?

Read more: The future of native advertising

Earlier this month Bud Light rolled out the first paid for video ad on Tinder, as part of its "Whatever USA" campaign. Other brands have flirted with Tinder in the past, including Fox and Gillette, as well as a bot named Ava promoting the sci-fi film "Ex Machina."

With more personalized and intimate opportunities to get a message in front of consumers, how can brands ensure they don't overstep the mark?

Tom Hyde, social strategy director, Droga5

In an increasingly competitive and profitable market segment, it’s no surprise that Tinder is desperately trying new and creative ways to monetize its substantial user base. Tinder’s allure for marketers is clear — access to an invaluable dataset that includes real time user demographics including age, sex, location and "attractiveness algorithm," in addition to the clearly identified user need state. Whether the platform can strike the right balance between freemium or ad-based models, while respecting users and the inclinations of advertisers, is yet to be seen.  

Tinder, for many of its users, has long been plagued with trust issues - from spambots to hackers to catfishers. Building and maintaining trust is paramount to the success of this platform.

Good native advertising blends seamlessly into the user experience, but in doing so becomes less transparent and less honest. Native ads on Tinder may provide the ability to illicit a genuine reaction in an intimate setting, but it comes at the risk of the user feeling duped when they’re potentially quite vulnerable. I imagine Ava at SXSW left many right-swipers feeling manipulated upon discovering that their perfect match was in fact an AI script.

As social platforms shift focus from engagement to reach, one that provides brands with new and innovative opportunities to connect with people at scale is welcome. In a setting as personal as Tinder, however, brands must be diligent to question how they are adding value while respecting the platform’s context, and avoid chasing headlines and newsworthiness at the expense of their audience. To forget this will be detrimental to not only the brand, but for the longevity of the platform itself.

Justine Bloome, SVP, head of strategy and innovation, Carat 

"Native advertising" has existed since the 1950s, when P&G’s first soap opera went to air. The notion of a brand delivering content, or an experience, that adds value through entertainment, information, education or utility isn’t new – it’s just easier to do and is more interactive today.

Recently, there have been countless studies to prove the effectiveness of brands delivering relevant, timely, authentic and valuable content, but all have hinged on the transparency and disclosure of the content being sponsored. I think what we are seeing now are brands willing to push the boundaries of native advertising with guerilla style ideas.

Examples like Ava at SXSW or Bud Light’s Whatever USA feel similar to a flash mob that turns out to be an advertisement for T-Mobile, or IKEA’s Bondi Beach Bookshelf – could be perceived by some as intrusive, but because it offers entertainment, a unique experience and therefore some social currency, most embrace it, engage and then share it with others.

The real question brands should be asking is not "will this be effective?", but rather "will the consumer find this valuable?". So long as brands remain hyper-vigilant about the experience being relevant and valuable to the audience (and err on the side of transparency) audiences, particularly Millennials, will continue to embrace and share these branded content experiences.

Shoshana Winter, executive planning director, digital integration, mcgarrybowen

In many ways, native advertising is not a new phenomenon. Whether it's a paid product placement in a film or a product review that appears as a result of a public relations campaign, the idea of brand exposure in native editorial or media environments has been around for years, with some consumers aware — and others unaware — that it is advertising.

What makes it different today is the sheer number of platforms and experiences where a brand can be "placed," as well as the deep level of personal intimacy that consumers have with those platforms.  As traditional paid advertising opportunities seem to be decreasing in value, the number of ways a brand can leverage digital, mobile and social opportunities seems to be multiplying every day, offering brands more ways to connect with consumers than ever before. But, the rules of engagement have changed. The highly intimate and social nature of these platforms demands that brands take great care in delivering high value, contextually relevant brand experiences, or suffer the viral consequences.   

Regardless of how obvious it is that an ad is a paid placement, when brands venture into less traditional "earned" environments, the bar for that experience is higher than it is for a 30-second commercial. In the case of newer, emerging platforms without established advertising models, brands need to be held to the same principles that publishers, product developers, and user experience professionals are (to deliver a high value experience at the right time and in the right environment) to be successful.
Those brands that are able to pull that off and entertain, inform, or transform their audiences have an opportunity that never existed in the pre-digital age, which is to do more than deliver an advertising message, but to create a deep, meaningful connection with consumers that will last longer than a mere 30 or 60 seconds.  

Rohit Thawani, Director of Digital Strategy and Social Media, TBWA

Why is there so much backlash and vitriol against native advertising? 

We advertisers have gone from the art form of designing emotional moments to the mutilation of creativity into a programmatic algorithm.

Brainless marketing-mix models, efficient CPMs, branded memes — these are pitfalls that led us to a hopeless place of thoughtless social advertising.  We seek to reach as many people in the most measureable, least risky way possible, and we call it native advertising.  That’s not native advertising.  That’s barely even advertising.

Native advertising is a term that exists because so many advertisers forgot how to be native, forgot how to blend in and speak to people on their intellectual and emotional level.  Instead, they’ve been trained to treat everyone like idiots.

Take a look at Condescending Corporate Brand Page on Facebook or r/FellowKids on Reddit for hilarious examples.

When we bring advertising content to places where people are having meaningful moments, and try to pass it off as meaningful too, we’re gonna get killed.  Deservedly. 

Occasionally however, you’ll see the magic of advertising shine through in the toughest places. 

Nissan sold a car on Amazon, and it made it to the front page of Reddit, and they had a blast with the audience thereafter.

In a guerrilla Tinder anti-smoking stunt,  the same girl got 29% swipe rights with a cigarette, and 54% swipe rights without a smoke.

There’s so much possibility for great native advertising when brands let go of their business school models and shoot for generating pure, human emotion. 

Let’s stop pandering to the stupid.  Let’s elevate advertising back to an art form. 

Let’s raise the bar for critical thinking.

Native advertising can and should be the most welcome form of brand messaging, as long as it’s created to treat people as smart as they are and with as much respect as they deserve.

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