Dating app Bumble’s new ad campaign prompts instant backlash and apology

Dating app Bumble has landed itself in hot water with its latest ad campaign. In recent days, billboards have appeared imploring women not to give up on dating or turn to celibacy.

Slogans included “A vow of celibacy is not the answer.”

The campaign met with instant backlash online. Many observers felt the ads were telling women what to do with their bodies. Celibacy is a valid lifestyle choice. And let’s also not forget some people are demi-sexual or asexual and may not be seeking regular sexual intimacy.

Bumble made a name for itself when it first launched in 2014 by allowing only women users to make the first move (all queer users can send initial messages to one another). It positioned itself as the app that puts women in control and helps them avoid unwanted attention.

Here are a few of the responses to the new campaign.

“We made a mistake”

Yesterday, Bumble admitted it got it wrong. It deleted the relevant ads from its social media and issued a statement.

“We made a mistake. Our ads referencing celibacy were an attempt to lean into a community frustrated by modern dating, and instead of bringing joy and humor, we did the opposite.

“Some of the perspectives we heard were: from those who shared that celibacy is the only answer when reproductive rights are continuously restricted; from others for whom celibacy is a choice, one that we respect; and from the asexual community, for whom celibacy can have particular meaning. We are also aware that for many, celibacy may be brought on by harm or trauma.”

It went on to say Bumble stood up for women and their right to “fully exercise personal choice,” but admitted that the ad campaign didn’t live up to those values and apologized “for the harm it caused.”

Bumble pledged to remove the adverts and make a donation to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, “among other organizations”, as a show of support for marginalized communities and those impacted by abuse. It said it would also donate the billboard space reserved for the “celibacy” adverts to those organizations.

Major app relaunch to attract Gen Z

In 2021, Bumble was the second biggest dating app in the US after Tinder. However, its fortunes have wavered in the last couple of years. Its shares have dropped approximately 45% since last July. In February, it laid off 350 employees or around 30% of its workforce.

The new billboard campaign celebrates an app redesign and relaunch to capture more Gen Z users. As part of the redesign, it’s shifted away from only allowing women to make the first move. Women now have the option to post a question on their profiles (i.e. What’s your idea of the perfect vacation?). If they match with any men, men can send an answer to the question without having to wait to receive a message from the woman. Some women users have complained of feeling it a burden to always be the one to initiate conversation.

Again, if registered as seeking a same-sex relationship, both parties can initiate contact once matched.

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