Tinder bids to woo Asia by ditching its image as a dating app for casual sex

When smartphone app Tinder first came on the online dating scene, it ignored everything west of the Pacific.


Tailoring the service to varied local dating rituals across Asia was deemed too challenging for the fledgling company.For example, premarital sex is frowned upon in the Philippines, arranged marriages are commonplace in India
and sogaeting (blind dates arranged by friends) is the norm in South Korea.

But as the app’s explosive user growth has started to wane in North America, Tinder’s parent company, Match Group, is beginning to woo markets in Asia, where millions of singles have never tried a dating app. To win over the region, Tinder is reinventing itself.


DOWN FOR A CHIT-CHAT’

In South Korea, the company is trying to shed its reputation as a hookup app – instead, it is selling itself as a place to find new friends.

In the country’s university towns, new billboards have emerged for Tinder: “New Year, New Friends, New You.”

In Seoul, illuminated cubes adorn subway stations with models blowing chewing gum bubbles while asking if “anyone is down for a quick chit-chat”.

There’s no casual meetup that happens spontaneously in Korea. Friends introduce you to friends.

-- Jieun Choi, 26


The strategy seems to be working. In 2015, Tinder did not even feature in the top five dating apps by downloads on the Apple Store or Google Play in South Korea, according to analytics firm App Annie.

Now, it’s ranked No 1 for both downloads and monthly active users in a country where just a generation ago, women were pressured to get married and start having children in their early 20s. It was typical for families to spend small fortunes on matchmaking gurus to set their child up with someone from an equal socio-economic background.

“During my parent’s generation, women got married straight after college graduation,” Jieun Choi, 26, said. “People in our generation were raised by such parents who expected us to go through that rite of passage.”

Her parents began urging her to date in her early 20s and even her chiropractor weighed in, suggesting a love life could help ease her back pain. “Being a single, you’re kind of considered incomplete,” she said.

The way young Koreans have traditionally found romantic partners is sogaeting, where a mutual friend sets two people up on a blind date, or meetings where groups of friends all hang out together and pair off.

“There’s no casual meetup that happens spontaneously in Korea. Friends introduce you to friends,” Choi said.

CULTURAL NUANCES IN ASIA

Match’s foray into Asia stretches beyond South Korea.

Match CEO Ginsberg is spending more money on marketing in South Korea, India and Japan than anywhere else in the world, despite the Asia-Pacific region only pulling in 12 per cent of Match’s revenue last year. In May, she told analysts this would increase to 25 per cent by 2023.

Match is also targeting Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam.

In an interview, Ginsberg recalled recently attending her nephew’s wedding in India and when she was speaking to a group of his friends who live in the country, she asked if anyone thought they might meet their significant other through an arranged marriage.

“They all started laughing at me and said, ‘that ended with our parents’,” Ginsberg said. “This generation is different.”
If anything is going to upset Ginsberg’s plan, it’s the cultural nuances.

In the US, Tinder profiles tend to be overrun with selfies and swimsuit shots, while profiles in South Korea include pictures of users’ favourite food, pets or hobbies.

In India, religion, language and caste are important features in a potential mate. In Japan, it’s typical for prospective suitors to list their blood type, or ketsuekigata, on their dating profiles as a hint at their personality type, alongside their salary and an often inflated height.

To understand all these intricacies, Match has been seeking local managers with knowledge of local customs.

In India, Match has a new general manager, Taru Kapoor, who is working to improve the chances of matching people with compatible cultural views by asking new users to disclose their thoughts on the #MeToo movement and whether women should continue working after marriage.

Junya Ishibashi was elevated to general manager for Match in Japan and Taipei. He is trying to lobby the government to backtrack on strict regulations enforced in the 1990s that ban marketing dating products on TV, near public transit stations or on Google.

The recent announcement of Tinder Lite, an app targeted towards emerging markets, will help with Match’s expansion eastward, said Cowen analyst John Blackledge.

Tinder Lite will be smaller to download and take up less space on smartphones to make it more effective in remote regions where data usage comes at a premium.

“If localisation is what’s needed, that’s the direction they will go,” he said. “They want to win.”
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