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How Tinder created an apocalyptic, choose-your-own-adventure love story for Gen Z

Tinder’s ‘Swipe Night’ campaign ranked 6th in this year’s World Creative Rankings

For Gen Z, swiping had become a bore. Enter ’Swipe Night,’ Tinder’s dynamic choose-your-own-adventure style experience — full of twists, turns and a range of real-life moral dilemmas that matched users based on the way they played. The campaign proved to be a match made in heaven for daters and Tinder, and was so well received that it ranked 6th in this year’s World Creative Rankings. To get the full scoop, The Drum spoke to Los Angeles-based agency 72andSunny.

Tinder, it could be argued, mainstreamed the ’swipe.’ The app made swiping for romance, well, cool (not to mention that research suggests that, from a cognitive standpoint, swiping is just as easy as tapping). Now, the interfaces of everything from e-commerce platforms to food and beverage ordering apps employ swipe functions.

But gradually, Tinder users grew bored of swiping. And, according to Kyle Miller, product lead at Tinder, Gen Zers, who make up over half of Tinder users, demanded more control over their experience. In an effort to re-captivate users, match daters in new ways and ultimately make swiping great again, Tinder enlisted the help of creative agency 72andSunny LA. What came of the partnership was ’Swipe Night,’ a bold and immersive choose-your-own-adventure-style video experience for US users that played out episodically across four weeks in the fall of 2019. It was so successful that it was brought back by popular demand, globally, last year.

Become your most spontaneous self

Miller says that the objective of the campaign was threefold. First of all, the team wanted to “make Tinder feel alive — like everyone’s on at the same time.” The second goal was to provide users with the control they had been demanding. Finally, Tinder wanted to connect users in fun, new ways based on their preferences and tendencies.

To achieve these ends, 72andSunny offered Tinder a proposition: build a story in which users control their own destiny. “Tinder is all about spontaneity and living your best single life,” says Matt Murphy, the agency’s chief creative officer. “So we thought, ‘What if we wrote a storyline that was fictitious, but allowed you to become your most spontaneous self?’”

After developing a prototype, Kate Morrison, head of production at 72andSunny LA, said it became clear that “the story needed to be thrilling… it had to be about more than, ‘Do I want orange juice or coffee in the morning?’” So they assembled a team of film and TV writers. The group developed a 60-page script that outlined a basic story: the user is the protagonist, and they discover they have three hours left to live before the world is obliterated by an asteroid. But how the story unfolds is entirely up to the user. As the clock ticks down, users encounter a series of choices. Some seem inconsequential: turn this way or that way. Others are charged with a moral gravity: save a human or a puppy? The user is given just seven seconds to lock in every decision by swiping one way or another — and they can’t revise or rethink them.

Based on their decisions, users were matched with other users who made either similar or dissimilar decisions. Furthermore, badges appeared on users’ profiles indicating some of their decisions. Murphy believes this approach was effective because it led to real conversations about users’ values and preferences. “Your friend cheats on his girlfriend. Do you tell her or do you not?” he says. “These are interesting things that you might want to know about someone who you could potentially meet up with or at least have a conversation with.”

Bringing the script to life

With so many branching decision routes within the experience, the storyboard took a long time to develop. Then of course there was the challenge of filming and production.

To give users the sense that they were driving the story themselves, the team chose to shoot the episodes from a first-person point of view. “Everybody uses Tinder on their phone — it only really exists on mobile. So the idea was, ‘Okay, I need to feel like I am making these decisions on my own behalf based on how I would react here,’” says Murphy. To create this feeling, a camera was attached to one person, who moved through the Mexico City set from scene to scene.

’Swipe Night’ was directed by 25-year-old filmmaker and actress Karena Evans, who made a name for herself directing music videos for the likes of Drake, Coldplay and SZA. Amy Wiedemann, senior director of integrated marketing at Tinder, says she was the right choice because “she’s Gen Z herself… and she just got what we were trying to do.” Directors Nicole Delaney and Brandon Zuck also contributed. The film featured stars including Angela Wong Carbone of Chinatown Horror Story, Jordan Christian Hearn of Inherent Vice and even included a cameo from Rico Nasty. With filming underway, the team tapped M ss ng p eces (pronounced “missing pieces”), a New York and Los Angeles-based agency, to lead production.

Rebuilding the entire app before the big debut

Having never before hosted video on its platform, let alone interactive video, Tinder encountered significant technical challenges along the way. “We basically had to rebuild the entire app,” says Miller. But even with such high hurdles, the series came together faster than expected. The project kicked off in February 2019 and was written, shot and produced within six months, debuting in the US in October 2019. “We had a lot of challenges along the way, but we were able to succeed because we had all the right partners in place,” adds Wiedemann.

And succeed they did: the opening night of the first episode garnered more users than SNL viewers during the same weekend. More impressively, users didn’t disengage. Morrison says: “One of the things that we were concerned about was if people would get bored. Would the episodes be too long? Interestingly enough, almost everyone got to the end. We saw that if users got through the first 20 seconds or so, they completed the experience.” The episodes debuted on concurrent Sunday nights.

Thanks to the 15 million users who engaged with the first rollout of ’Swipe Night,’ Tinder saw a spike in conversations between users and a match rate increase of more than 25%. Inspired by this success, Tinder relaunched the campaign internationally in February 2020. It repackaged the four original episodes into three longer episodes because users enjoyed the longer format.

Is this the future of Tinder?

Wiedemann believes that interactive video was the perfect format for ’Swipe Night,’ as it helped achieve its goal of engaging Gen Z users in a new, unexpected way. “Video is native to this generation,” she says. “That’s how they consume things. That’s how they learn. That's how they’re social. But with so much content out there, it was our challenge to make our content unique. Our content was tied inherently to the ‘swipe,’ which is not something that anybody else was doing. So we married our ‘swipe’ with video and then created a unique perspective where users have more control. That was really like a huge differentiation for us. That made it unique, exciting and fun.”

As the world, and socializing as we know it, continue to evolve in response to the pandemic, Miller suggests that ’Swipe Night’ offers a taste of what the future of Tinder might look like. “You’ll see us creating more digital shared experiences with the ultimate goal of bringing our members together and creating matches,” he says. “It’s not just about a fun experience — it’s all connecting back to the true mission of Tinder, which is sparking connections between our members.”

The Drum is celebrating this year’s standout performers, and their work, in a special series of editorial features collected on our World Creative Rankings hub. And if you’d like to get your hands on the entire World Creative Rankings dataset, you can pre-order our full PDF report.

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