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A match made in (advertising) heaven: Companies debate virtue of ads on Tinder

More and more companies are finding their advertisements on sites — like dating apps — they did not specifically choose.

More and more companies are advertising on Tinder, although sometimes without realizing it.

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More and more companies are advertising on Tinder, although sometimes without realizing it.

This is one Tinder match some companies weren’t expecting.

Increasingly, more and more organizations are advertising on dating apps without realizing it, a phenomenon that has raised eyebrows among those who'd rather not be associated with an app often associated with hook-ups.

That was the situation the University of Alberta recently found itself in, when an advertisment for their open house appeared on Tinder. The platform allows users to ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ an advertiser, in the same way they would a potential date.

It was not a match made in heaven, according to university officials.

“Over the weekend, the Registrar's Office determined that Facebook inadvertently placed our Open House ad on Tinder as an error,” the university said in an emailed statement.

Facebook partners with Tinder to share ads targeted at a particular demographic, a form of marketing called programmatic advertising. The company allows advertisers to opt out of a category called “dating apps”, but university officials said they found themselves on Tinder anyway.

Ever since Tinder started running ads in February, more Edmonton companies have debated the merits of advertising to the single and mingling.

A spokesperson for Edmonton-based home builder Hopewell was also surprised to find out their advertisements were appearing on Tinder.

Scott Hamilton, director of marketing and customer experience for Hopewell, chalked it up to programmatic advertising and said he would be looking into it with their marketing team.

“There’s plenty of brands who fit well on Tinder, but our family-friendly communities aren’t among them!” he said in an email.

A spokesperson of the company representing Secord Edmonton was surprised to find out their ads had showed up on Tinder.

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A spokesperson of the company representing Secord Edmonton was surprised to find out their ads had showed up on Tinder.

But Kyle Murray, Vice Dean and Professor of Marketing at the University of Alberta School of Business, said advertising on Tinder could be a win for companies after the millennial market.

Still, he said the algorithms Facebook uses to connect advertisers with audiences aren't perfect, as they're largely automated.

“You can imagine that if you’re a restaurant looking to book tables for Valentine’s Day, that might be the perfect place. But if you’re Harvard University looking to sell an executive education program, maybe that’s not the right place,” he said.

But as online advertising grows, companies will have to navigate more of these minefields.

The big difference with digital advertising compared to traditional advertising is the level of targeting advertisers can utilize, Murray said. Companies select audiences based on search terms, browsing history and online purchases.

Advertisers need to do their due diligence to make sure their ads don’t come across as “creepy” due to excessive targeting, he added. It’s important to make sure users aren’t reached in a way that can make them feel vulnerable or uncomfortable.

“Really what the companies are trying to do is give you the information they think you’d be interested in. But we know there are times and places where that will be inappropriate, and sometimes just ineffective,” Murray said.

“That’s one of the changes with digital advertising ― we can be so specific, sometimes we can be too specific.”

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