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Responsive Ad Campaign Confuses SXSW Tinder Users

March 17th, 2015
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Since it’s initial release in 2012, the mobile dating/hook-up app, Tinder, has risen to the status of cultural phenomenon, particularly with the millennial generational cohort. The app earned TechCrunch’s accolade of “Start-Up of the Year” in 2013, and was the most used app by athletes at last year’s 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. But these early months of 2015 mark the first time the app is being employed for its marketing potential to drive brand awareness.

For readers unaware of Tinder and its functionality, users set parameters for size of the search radius and the preferred age and sex of a romantic partner. From those metrics, Tinder pulls profiles of other users who fit those predetermined preferences, and the individual will either “swipe” (slide the subject-profile with their finger) to the left to reject, or to the right to express interest. If two users express mutual interest, the option to open up a chat dialogue appears and flirtation ensues. Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, the marketing team for the new Sci-Fi film, Ex Machina, has had a stroke of manipulative innovation when planning the Austin, TX premiere of the movie. They created a “bot” (a fake profile set with automated responses) using pictures of the film’s protagonist, Ava, and set it up to appear for users in the Austin area. The bot is pre-programmed with a series of interactions to convince users 1) of Ava’s interest in them, and 2) that they should check out her Instagram to get to know her better. Here’s where the bait-and-switch occurs: when the user follows Ava’s Instagram handle, they are led to the profile of the film, which may come as a shock as they expect to find Ava’s personal account.

While this may come across as emotionally exploitative (it is), when reading deeper about the film, this strategy makes a lot of artistic sense. In the movie, Ava, played by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, is an android striving to understand humanity’s complexities. Examining her automated responses (e.g. “Have you ever been in love?” “What makes you human?” “What attracts you to me?”) reveals that this Tinder bot IS the movie’s protagonist, trying to achieve a deeper level of empathy for the human condition. So even though this strategy may be ethically questionable, one could argue that the Ex-Machina marketing team kept their ad tactics in line with the nature of their product. Guess we’ll let it slide on account of artistic continuity.

This concept of a movie’s character transcending the screen and infiltrating reality is sure to unnerve some Tinder users at SXSW, especially considering sensitivity around toying with people’s emotions. However, (ignoring the potential immorality of building up the hopes of romantics only to dash their spirits with a sci-fi twist) the concept of a responsive, social advertisement represents a fresh marketing frontier. Building buzz around a brand through the implementation of interactive advertisements inherently boosts the target audience’s engagement with the brand. All we ask is that you please not break anyone’s heart while doing it.

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