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Research: Advertising and Online Dating

News Story

Online dating is the new normal. But how are the apps in this billion dollar industry effectively reaching customers? Professor Aditi Paul, PhD, and Karolina Zaluski '21 examine advertising and online dating across the world.

If you were looking for love 25 years ago, you might place an ad in your local newspaper. Or perhaps you’d attend a nearby speed dating mixer, or lurk in the tomato sauce aisle of the grocery store until “the one” strolled by.

Today, these antiquated means of finding love have been replaced by a billion dollar industry of online services, apps, and digital algorithms—if you yourself do not currently subscribe to the OKCupid, Tinder, and Bumbles of the world, it’s almost certain that you are well aware of their pull over the social lives of your family and friends. According to eHarmony, a whopping 40 million Americans are now dating online.

With big business often comes big advertising. Understanding this reality, Dyson Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Aditi Paul, PhD, and Karolina Zaluski ’21, have embarked on what can potentially become a trailblazing research study.

“There’s been a lot of research on online dating and its potentialcan you find love, why are people using these apps, etc.” says Paul. “But no research has looked at it through ‘what kind of advertising messages are these apps generating?’ We’re looking at the intersection of online dating and advertising.”

Paul’s research has stemmed from several years of academic study related to online dating—first while completing her PhD at Michigan State University, and later while collaborating with a professor at Penn State University Erie.

“We presented a paper in a conference two years ago, looking at the motivations for which people date online. We wanted to check what kind of messages were working. From there, our interest grew into analyzing online dating advertising messages.”

For her latest project, Paul has enlisted Karolina Zaluski ’21, a Business Economics major who took an interest in Paul’s research focus while taking her COMM 111 class in her first year at Pace. The duo is working together through support from the Undergraduate Student-Faculty research program, sponsored by the Office of the Provost and Division of Student Success.  

Paul and Zaluski ultimately hope to compare messaging across countries and continents. To begin, they looked at countries in Europe with the highest social media penetration—countries in which social media is most widespread and immersed in daily life—and analyzed the messaging of their most popular dating websites amd apps.

“The first thing I did was find out all of the most popular online dating sites and applications within certain countries,” says Zaluski. “I started to work in Europe. After making a list of the popular dating websites in each country,  I listed the advertising messages that were featured in the homepage of each of these sites.”

From there, the duo will be compiling a database that will help them better organize their findings.

“The first thing we want to do is have a clear database,” says Paul. “All these countries, all these messages—we’re coding these messages on different dimensions. For example, how many apps and websites are directed at the general population vs. how many directed at the LGBTQIA community? What motivations are these advertising messages appealing to? Are they using emotional appeals or rational appeals? What features do they choose to highlight in their advertising messages?”

Zaluski, an international student, notes that there are a number of variables that need to be evaluated, which will have a considerable effect on how messaging can be adequately compared both within a country itself and amongst the rest of its continent and the world.

“I was surprised by the amount of information we had to take into account,” said Zaluski. “When I was doing the research for Germany, for example, some of the apps and websites were only in German—this means that it’s a local application.”

Paul and Zaluski are currently expanding their research to North and South American countries, and hope to develop a complete database that will enable them to compare advertising messages for online dating in a way that is similar to the work that has already been done regarding advertising in other areas.

“There’s a lot of research on advertising appeals, but it’s a lot of research on public service announcements—anti-tobacco advertising messages, for example. If you look at Asian countries, these PSAs might be more catered to ‘How is your family being affected by your habit?’, whereas in European countries the messaging is more along the lines of ‘What is happening to your health?’ We want to see if that happens in advertising messages on dating apps as well,” says Paul.

Ultimately, Paul and Zaluski are excited to continue their quest of uncovering what kinds of messaging is successful, which in what parts of the world, and examine how these messages might even correlate with emerging trends in each country. Most notably, both find the prospect of publishing new and innovative research particularly exciting.  

“In Europe, it is not as typical to do research when you are undergraduate. We don’t have this kind of opportunity.” says Zaluski. “So for me, it’s very important to examine the correlation between culture and the needs of people. I’m astonished that no one has done this research before!”

“It’s a long process, but it’s a process I’m very excited about, and we see a lot of potential in it,” says Paul.