Feature

Strategy Analysis - Match.com turns dating into 'live' ad

Brand: Match.com
Clients: Charlotte Harper, managing director, and Sarah Drew, UK senior
manager
Brief: Deliver something that is fun for Match.com users, the general
public and Match staff
Target audience: Adults 30-40 (female bias)
Budget: Undisclosed

AGENCIES
Creative: HRP (New York)
Communications planning: Monkey
PR: Cherish PR, Monkey
Media buying: M2M

STRATEGY

Online dating is a growing phenomenon in the UK; as people work harder and put in longer hours at work, dating sites are bringing all kinds of people together to find love.

Match.com is the UK's number-one dating website, and has boasted the highest number of unique visitors in the past year. Most of its subscribers are seriously seeking a partner, rather than "just a shag".

Subscribers upload written profiles, photographs of themselves and details of the type of person they are seeking. Match.com then picks out potential suitors from its database.

One of the biggest problems online brands face is how to "live" offline. Historically, the dating website has advertised using TV, outdoor and radio.

The idea was to take Match.com to people by allowing them to interact with the brand, not just each other. The aim was to go beyond traditional advertising and deliver something that not only paid for itself but was fun for Match.com users, as well as the public. It was also hoped the campaign would explain the service and underline its status as the UK's premier dating site.

EXECUTION

- TV: The climax of the idea gave one male and one female Match.com member the chance to find love through Match.com, and appear live on peaktime TV. Three consecutive solus breaks in Love Island were secured on 6 August. The ads were shot immediately before transmission, in front of a live studio audience, and then transmitted "as live". The first saw the host introduce the lucky winners, the second gave the winning man the opportunity to sell himself, and the third saw the winning woman's turn.

- Online: Before TV activity, contestants uploaded videos to a special "Live Love" Match.com microsite, comprising a 30-second pitch describing why they shouldn't be single. Other Match.com users then judged the entries, with two winners going forward to the final TV stage.

The idea centred on "an event" into which all marketing activity fed. The live ads crowned the campaign, providing a "money shot" after the positive "foreplay" of the other activity, which comprised three stages.

- PR: A national PR campaign was launched through Cherish PR, using "sneezers" to spread the word; and an online partnership with MSN and the Match.com microsite (the main marketing tool) generated national interest, urging people to join Match.com and existing members to become involved - either by submitting their own videos and campaign for votes, or simply through voting. There was also activity PR in local and national press and radio.

More TV activity surrounded the event itself, including ten-second top-and-tail promo TV ads produced by the New York agency HRP; Sunday press activity; and continued PR activity online, through the Match.com site and on ITV. After the "climax" live ads, the winners were interviewed on regional ITV, and their dating progress tracked on the live ad website.

RESULTS

Video entries to the competition exceeded their target by 23 per cent. PR coverage featured in The Sun, the Daily Star and The Express. The day after the live ads aired was the highest month for subscriptions in Match.com's history, and was 3.5 per cent higher than the best-performing month for the year.

Google searches that day led to the highest number of new subscriptions in the history of Match.com's relationship with the search engine, and these have continued to increase since. MSN has also seen a 23 per cent increase in registrations and a 39 per cent rise in subscriptions.

THE VERDICT - Steve Hobbs, head of planning and integration, Carat

Upon hearing I was to review the Match.com campaign, I was looking forward to reading all about the growth of singledom, the phenomenon of social networking, the buzz of word of mouth and the importance of trust in a virtual world.

However, the thinking behind this activity seems a bit more old-fashioned than that. In the past, Match.com has run awareness-building activity on TV, radio and outdoor. Though this work is executionally very different, on face value it's difficult to see how it achieves much more.

The holy grail for online businesses is to understand how offline communication drives their brands, both in terms of volume (in this case, subscriptions) and perception. Without doubt, this campaign combines on- and offline well.

Dating has always been a popular spectator sport - just witness Blind Date's ten million-plus Saturday-evening audiences. The big idea - to produce long-form ads - modernises dating TV and is a cute exploitation of single people's inevitable search for a partner, set around a show in which celebrities show us how not to do it.

Targeting Match.com users to build the story is powerful, and the success of the activity lies in the combination of PR, search and the ubiquitous partnership with MSN (not another homepage takeover, please?). The results look impressive in terms of behavioural effect, and subscriptions are growing. The question remains, though, whether this would have happened anyway through a combination of a "normal" TV campaign and well-managed search activity.

The campaign successfully delivers on its objective of taking Match.com to people and explaining its services, with well-executed ideas. But it is unclear whether the work was founded on the consumer insight that a social stigma remains attached to online dating, or whether many still believe people do not represent themselves in a virtual world as they are in the real world.

If indeed this campaign was designed to shift people's attitudes and thus change behaviour in this area, it would be very impressive. I would be interested, therefore, in knowing how this activity influenced people's perception of online dating, whether the "live ad" couple are now a laughing stock in their local, non-virtual communities ... or whether they are now single!

Score: 4 out of 5.