'Romance is back': OkCupid CMO on dating app's explosive growth amid isolation

Ad spend is strong, payment terms are untouched, and the brand's pumping money into the creative community at a time it's never been more needed.

Melissa Hobley heads up the marketing arm of a brand whose mission is to bring people together for dates, in a world where that is not physically possible right now. 

On paper, it should be a recipe for disaster. But dating app OkCupid has quite literally never been more popular. 

"We are seeing more activity on OkCupid now than we were in February," said the chief marketing officer. "We have seen a 30 to 40 percent bump in some parts of the world -- we’re blown away by how much people are liking, talking, messaging."

Quarantine has caused explosive growth over the past month as singles make their dates virtual. 

A huge survey of more than 70,000 OkCupid users found that only six percent are waiting to date when the pandemic is over. That means 94 percent of people on the app are hanging out virtually right now.

More than half of these respondents said messaging is their favorite way to court in this pandemic world, followed by video and then the OG phone call. The mode of preferred communication says a lot about you, too, according to the study. If you love a bit of texting, you’re more likely to clap when a plane lands and believe that astrological signs are important in a match (ew). If it’s a phone call you prefer, then you’re looking for something more serious and you’re more likely to find intelligence sexy and enjoy talking about politics. Meanwhile, those thirsty video lustbuckets are more likely to be concerned about climate change, dislike Trump and be into shower sex.

"What I’m hearing from straight women is that romance is back," continued Hobley. "They can’t hook up so the guys are putting in some effort, it’s like, ‘okay Shakespeare, what have you got for me?’ Women are loving it because there’s no pressure and the dating is relaxed."

Guys are sending wine to their date’s home to do tastings together. Someone sent candles to another for a romantic night in. There’s a couple reading the same novel every night. Virtual dates have an innocence about them corners of dimly-lit bars will never be able to contend with. 

OkCupid’s market-specific questionnaire for new users is what powers its algorithm for better matches and sets it apart from other dating apps. Members must answer at least 15 questions (but can answer as many as 3,000) when joining to define what they want from their dating life.

Some of the questions are as black and white as, "do you believe in a border wall?" and "would you date someone who didn’t believe in the MeToo movement?" Not surprisingly, one of the most answered questions is simply, "Trump?"

It’s the only dating app in the world that can match based on your opinion of climate change -- one of the most popular aspects of OkCupid. 

The brand started dropping questions about COVID-19 when the pandemic became a truly global issue. "Are you virtual dating?" and "how are you virtual dating?" were among them. More than one million users answered these coronavirus-specific questions. 

Hobley explained: "What’s been interesting is the empathetic and compassionate messages. 

"The thousands and thousands of profiles that mention COVID-19 say something like, ‘hey I hope you’re doing okay -- on here figuring out how to manage all this.’ The stories we’re hearing are lovely and I think we’re going to see a lot of couples after this."

It’s a good time to be on a virtual dating app, and it’s an even better time to be working for one. While some sectors take a complete battering, others thrive. And dating apps are thriving. On the marketing side, OkCupid’s ad spend has not been harmed. It’s essentially flat as the brand takes advantage of these increasing digital courter numbers. And a temporary departure of media channels for the unlucky companies has left a window open for the more fortunate.  

"We are taking advantage of spaces where we thought we couldn’t have afforded or it was really cluttered," said the CMO. "There’s a lot of categories out there that have had to pull their spend because you can’t go out to that restaurant or hop on a plane, so there are opportunities to tell your stories and we’re taking advantage of that.

"There’s not many things you can do right now, but virtual dating is one of them."

OkCupid was quick to tweak its creative following the pandemic. Work which rolled out with agency partner Mekanism earlier this year was played with to reflect what’s going on with sensitivity that’s appropriate and respectful of the situation. 

Most of Hobley’s daily strategy meetings now come with an assistant in the form of her baby (and interruptions owing to her other child’s toddler meltdowns). 

She said: "On half of my calls during the day, I have a baby on my lap. They don’t understand that I’m working -- I’m trying to hide in a certain part of the house and they don’t know.

"Juggling kids is tough, but other people have it harder. How are single moms doing this? How are the families that are furloughed and not making money and doing this? I cannot complain and I will not complain, because I got really lucky. But it is crazy; you’re trying to be a good mom and you’re trying to work and you’re all in one space so it’s a dynamic you’ve never dealt with before, but it’s a silver lining to get more time with my kids."

Mayhem aside, OkCupid appears to be a ship unexpectedly built to weather this crazy storm. It’s vendors will reap the benefits too -- payment terms are to remain the same as so many other brands ask their agencies for extensions or turn off the financial tap altogether. The dating app is even going one step further and doing what it can to save other entities in its world.

"We’re trying to support the creative community, be it having it do more freelance projects for us -- we’re actively trying to give back," Hobley added. "That includes restaurants and bars which are essential to dating and courtship. We are incredibly lucky to be in a position where everyone is dating right now if they’re single. And we can use that to support other industries and folks in the meantime."

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