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Tinder CMO on LGBTQ+ allyship: ‘You have to be comfortable upsetting some folks’


By Hannah Bowler | Senior Reporter

August 28, 2023 | 7 min read

In light of heightened tension around LGBTQ+ representation in advertising, the dating app’s marketing boss Melissa Hobley shares how her queer love campaign paid off, lifting both consideration and intent.

Tinder 'It starts with a swipe' campaign

Tinder 'It starts with a swipe' campaign / Tinder

In February, Melissa Hobley debuted her first campaign since taking Tinder’s top marketing job in August 2022. The bright maximalist pink ‘It starts with a swipe’ campaign celebrates a diverse range of couples, with most of the cast non-white and nearly half from the LGBTQ+ community.

Just two months later, the marketing industry was rocked by Bud Light Dylan Mulvaney backlash, which caused brands to be wary of offering as vocal support as they would have in the past; Benjamin Cohen, the CEO of global LGBTQ+ publisher PinkNews, told The Drum that in the lead-up to Pride this year brands had been “more guarded.“

For Hobley, along with landing that brand awareness message, she says the campaign “was also an opportunity to use marketing to chip away at homophobia and continue to show all kinds of connections and all kinds of daters.”

For Bud Light, the fiasco was business-critical and even though it sacked the two marketing leads who greenlit the activity (Alissa Heinerscheid, vice-president of marketing for Bud Light, and Daniel Blake, the marketing lead for its mainstream brands), it still saw revenue in the US drop $395m (over 10%) compared with the same period a year prior.

For Tinder, however, the campaign appears to have boosted earnings and its second-quarter direct revenue was up 6% year-over-year, at $475m, which its chief exec Bernard Kim partly attributed to the campaign. Kim said on owner Match Group’s Q2 2023 earnings call: “Our new ‘It starts with a swipe’ marketing campaign is delivering, most importantly by increasing overall new user sign-ups and reactivations at Tinder, and is having an impressive impact on our brand consideration and intent.”

Tinder also saw improved new user and reactivation trends in the US in the quarter following the launch of the campaign, according to the investor transcript. For Hobley though, she knew she was on to a hit. “You know in real time if you’re hitting a nerve,” she recalls. ”We would see the TikTok comments just light up.”

Brands and brand leaders have been having a difficult time taking a stand on social, political and environmental issues. A recent Interbrand report exposed the pressure senior marketers are under to take a public position, with less than half of brand leaders feeling equipped to deal with critical ethical debates and 65% saying the potential impact of ethical issues could be existential to their businesses in the next three to four years.

“You have to actually be very comfortable knowing that you will upset some folks and you have to have convictions in what is right,” says Hobley. ”LGBTQ+ equality is not a political issue, it is a human rights issue.”

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According to Tinder’s recent Future of Dating report, 54% of LGBTQ+ came out on Tinder before coming out to their friends and family. Hobley even received a message from a user who had seen the campaign on the subway and then used it as a conversation starter to come out to a friend. “We have an opportunity as the biggest dating app in the world to show up in that conversation and to push the conversation that needs to be had.”

Beyond the campaign, Tinder has been vocal on the US blood ban that prohibited gay men from donating blood and recently introduced a ‘My first pride’ badge for Tinder profiles. “I have total support to do that and Tinder will continue to stand up for communities that should have that support.”

Tinder’s purpose-led marketing goes beyond supporting the LGBTQ+ community and Hobley has access to insights about what people care about when dating. Recent campaigns have included partnering with a dog rescue center for National Dog Week and a tool to encourage young people to vote in the US midterm elections.

“You’re looking for something serious and an ingredient to a happy long-term relationship is caring about the same shit. So, we put that into the product and then level that up into marketing. ‘Swipe left if you don’t vote,’ how hot is that?”

For the year ahead, Hobley is planning to bring back ‘It starts with a swipe’ with fresh takes. “Tinder is having such a moment, so you can expect us to be showing up in cultural moments and you can expect to see us continue to support all of our communities of daters, be it queer, straight, non-binary, trans, pansexual, atheist, agnostic, whatever it is...”

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