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Brand Strategy Bumble Crisis PR

Women were having nun of Bumble’s celibacy ad. Nor were strategists


By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

May 15, 2024 | 6 min read

Dating app Bumble recently relaunched with the ‘Opening Moves’ campaign. Overshadowing the work was a rather bold celibacy billboard that many women didn’t like. Several top strategists explain why.


“I think every woman who has endured online dating has, at some point, said, ‘Fuck it, I’m joining a convent,’” says the IMA’s head of channel communications, Caroline Gill, by way of explaining what she sees as the initial insight underpinning the divisive new ad from dating app Bumble.

It could have been good, but most of the commentariat agrees that it isn’t. There is also a general agreement that Bumble’s subsequent apology probably bought back a lot of goodwill.

Gill also thinks the ad plays better in the UK than the US, where “abortion laws make celibacy look like the safe option for women.”

What, then, is to be learned from Bumble’s fumble?

Lesson 1: It’s a God forsaken-world

Audrey Dahmen, a senior brand strategy consultant, believes the campaign came out at the worst possible time.

“It totally missed the mark launching during the ongoing conversation of women’s safety like the ‘Man v Bear’ discourse. It also came after Tinder released the ‘Share My Date’ feature, which provides the details of date plans–including location, date, time, and a photo of the match. After Bumble removed its signature feature of women messaging first, you understand why the ad sounds so tone-deaf. The apology is a good start, but it will take more to right this wrong.”

Ibukun Oluleye, a creative strategist, has been tracking the responses on TikTok, Twitter and Instagram. “The issue stems from crazy inappropriate behavior. When you’re positioned as being a platform made to support women’s safety and UX, this comes more across as shaming women and being dismissive rather than cheekiness.”

Bumble's celibacy ad

Lesson 2: Don’t stray from your (convent)ions

Katy Blake, a fractional chief content officer, criticizes the drastic shift in Bumble’s branding strategy. “Bumble was basically built on being a safe place for women. And this relaunch, by removing that feature and then going for such a bold but opposing view, it feels like it has sold out. Women feel let down. This is against the messaging Bumble has stood with for as long as it has existed.”

Chloe Ambrose, a creativity director, doesn’t like the rebrand’s new shade of yellow. It’s “colder.” And it appears the messaging is too. “The ‘you know full well’ on this ad also feels interrogative... Bumble could have vowed to support these people instead via more monitoring or signup requirements instead of telling them to change. People’s backs are already up regarding this topic because, as people rightly said, women go through shit with dating.”

Nadia Williams, a science and engineering PR account executive, questions the fit of the messaging. “I think the ad could have worked for a more ‘out-there’ dating app like Tinder. But the messaging doesn’t fit what I thought Bumble was – a safe space and with more intentional relationships.”

Lesson 3: A vow of silence doesn’t generate links

Andy Barr from 10 Yetis crisis communications PR agency suggests that the controversy might have been a deliberate strategy to generate attention. “I immediately felt this was very Protein World. A deliberate attempt to generate ‘noise.’ Why? Because Google loves noise. Google rewards noise as it often can’t tell if that noise is positive or negative. Bumble users don’t really care what is said about the platform in the media; they just want to try and bump uglies/find their lobster and they have limited app options.”

Every time we critique an ad, this opinion comes up, but Bumble wouldn’t put out a provocative ad not to stir up a bit of debate because, as we know, debate and friction equals reach.

Now, not everyone is singing from the same hymn book. Julie Seal, a freelance creative director, likes the ad. She was on Bumble for years. She met her partner on it. She hated being on the app, “mainly because the profiles were so awful“ and she was the “recipient of more than 60 dick pics, never requested a single one.” So, as someone who knows the safety issues these apps have, she comes in with the notion that people need help making their profiles and getting in the mindset.

“This ad simply spoke to the truism and feelings of using a dating app for all; it’s good, I don’t think it missed the mark.” Don’t assume that everyone excommunicated this work. It is a slow news week and Apple is so Old Testament.

After any sin, you have to nail the confession. Finally, Tonina Takova, head of strategy at Social for Good, is among the majority of respondents who thought Bumble did just that. “It missed the mark with the campaign but handled the situation well with the released apology. It owned its mistake and approached the situation with humility and empathy towards the communities it offended.”

Brand Strategy Bumble Crisis PR

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