Tinder is having a moment. Wedged in the back of a sweaty lift at a London advertising agency last week, I was the unfortunate eavesdropper on two male executives discussing the relative merits of a client. "I’d swipe right for her" was the consensus.
The ubiquitous dating app has entered the vernacular, and technology has presented the uninspired with yet another platform for sexual objectification. A platform that is being embraced to the tune of 800m swipes a day.
At the heart of Tinder’s success is the brutal simplicity of its functionality. Images of users appear; swipe right if you are interested and left if you are not. If you swipe right for a user who has also swiped right for you, your phone lights up and declares your match.
This is an app fiercely in tune not just with the functionality, but also the compulsive behaviours of its users. Tinder demands only fleeting attention; consumers can absentmindedly swipe to their heart’s content, stroking both their phones and their egos with a solitary thumb. It’s a self-fulfilling model: the more users you like, the more chances of a match you get.
In an era where potentially life-changing decisions are signalled by the sweep of a thumb, marketers must recalibrate their thinking.
Sean Rad, founder and chief executive of Tinder, has said that the app is "really an analogue for what we do in the real world". But in fact, it is the polar opposite. Users are protected from the sting of rejection; the ability to control interactions is worlds apart from the glorious mess of real life.
In many ways Tinder has more in common with Paro, the robot seal created by Takanori Shibata, which is currently being tested in the UK by the NHS. Paro, who was launched in 2004, has been marketed as a companion for dementia sufferers, the elderly and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Just as psychologists have argued that Paro offers the illusion of companionship, in many ways Tinder offers many of its users only the promise of intimacy.
However, crucially, this promise is enough, as it is all many consumers have time for.
Over on WhatsApp, more than 18bn messages are sent and 36bn received each day (the difference being accounted for by the Group Chat feature). That is equivalent to more than 50bn text messages per day; on a single network. The numbers are staggering, but the key fact is that the average teen now seems to spend almost every waking moment using their smartphone.
Sweep of a thumb
In an era where potentially life-changing decisions are signalled by the sweep of a thumb, marketers must recalibrate their thinking. For "Generation Swipe", attention is always fleeting.
Of course, like most nascent technologies by the time they have reached the lifts of London advertising agencies, the chances are that Tinder has already reached its peak. But while platforms may come and go, the consumer behaviour that underpins them remains.
Communication is as fast as it is casual for this generation. The danger is that, while your agency has been busy crafting a beautiful six-and-a-half minute ad (sorry, "brand film") starring a Hollywood A-lister, your consumer has already swiped left.