Daters gotta date: The billion dollar business of dating apps

Quilt.AI
Quilt.AI
Published in
6 min readFeb 22, 2023

Sphere is a cultural research tool that studies online data and applies machine learning models for deeper, more empathetic insights. This time, it looks into the how major dating apps market themselves.

As big tech continues to permeate our daily lives, the most common answer to “So how did you guys meet?” has increasingly become “Oh, on an app”. Over the last decade, the art of dating has shifted from chance encounters and friend referrals to an algorithmic game.

Today, over 300 million people use dating apps worldwide, with about 20 million paying for premium features. These apps offer a fast, easy way to meet potential partners through the instantaneous dopamine hit of swiping through curated profiles. And with some apps catering to niche lifestyles and preferences, users have the chance to expand their dating pool far beyond their immediate location and social circles.

By quantifying connection, these dating apps have gamified the way we approach and form relationships. Algorithms match users based on shared interests or similarities based on the detailed profiles they fill in, which can include anything from likes and dislikes to questions on irrational fears and recent shower thoughts.

Gamification is defined as the application of gaming mechanics to non-gaming environments to make difficult tasks more palatable. By that logic, dating apps have turned the terrifying task of having to go out and talk to people into a convenient game of digital matchmaking.

There are downsides to the game, of course, such as the potential for false identities and scams, or unwanted messages and objectification. The heavy reliance on technology can lead to a more superficial approach to relationships, diminishing the capacity for physical intimacy and in-person connection. Nonetheless, with the world becoming ever more digital, the online space remains essential in the eternal human quest for true love.

And as the world keeps on swiping, the business behind it keeps on growing.

The global online dating app market size was valued at USD 7.5 billion in 2021 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 5.5% from 2022 to 2030. Consumer spending on dating apps reached $17.8 million during the first half of 2022, a whole 16% more than in the same period of the previous year.

Even with rising living costs and a tumultuous recession, the numbers show that people aren’t skimping on romance. Users are more than ready to spend on unlimited swipes, extra details on potential partners, or a profile boost to get more views.

We used Sphere’s Ad Evaluation app to survey the major players in the dating app business and found a surprising depth of variety. Whether it’s a casual fling or a serious relationship, there’s an app that can help — proving that, even if it’s not quite true that there’s someone for everyone, there’s certainly an app for everyone.

The app behind the insights

Sphere’s Ad Evaluation app harnesses the power of the internet and crowdsources mass opinions for an objective picture of how creative content will be received. Using machine learning, it determines the values that a brand’s messaging aligns with and the personality archetype that the brand represents. Use the app on marketing assets to find out the contextual meanings they represent and the traits that your brand conveys to audiences.

Here’s the app’s analysis of the world’s top 3 dating apps:

Tinder

Garnering more than 75 million monthly active users since 2023, Tinder is used in more than 197 countries with the most users in the United States.

It’s arguably the most well-known dating app around the world and popularized the fast and loose game of swiping for dates — swipe right to like, left to dislike; start chatting only if there’s a match.

Giving users with only basic demographics and a few photos of potential dates to make a split second decision with, Tinder put a fun simple spin on location-based dating.

Sphere’s Ad Evaluation found that the brand archetype most aligned with Tinder is the lover (surprise, surprise!).

Tinder ads feature warm cinematic scenes of passionate people living their best lives.

And fun-loving is the value that comes across strongest in Tinder ads, with frames depicting celebrations, good times, and summer fun in the sun.

Badoo

Widely used in Europe, Badoo has over 400 million registered users across 190 countries with the biggest growth in Germany and Poland.

While Tinder is purely for dating, Badoo presents itself as a social network. Users fill in detailed profiles with interests, likes and dislikes, and can search for people and chat with anyone in real-time.

Its features aim to create a stress-free experience that include activities to help users make genuine connections while having fun. Mini games like “Would You Rather” match users who are online in real-time to answer randomized questions and find out what they have in common.

Sphere’s Ad Evaluation found that the brand archetype most aligned with Badoo is the rebel.

Badoo ads feature a beautifully diverse range of users who show that this app is for everyone and anyone; whether gender fluid, pansexual or fiercely defying beauty conventions.

Expressive is the value that comes across strongest in Badoo ads, with close up shots of strong, opinionated young people unafraid to live their truth and show the world their real selves.

Bumble

Tinder’s main rival in North America, Bumble has over 40 million monthly active users as of this year. The platform found significant early success, receiving 100 thousand downloads in its first month, and for good reason.

Bumble is an innovative dating app that puts women in the driver’s seat — they message men first and give them just 24 hours to respond. Its growth marked a move away from the casual hook-up culture spawned by Tinder.

Other thoughtful features like Bumble BFF also helps users to find and make platonic friendships while Bumble Bizz moves offers opportunities to network and make professional connections.

Sphere’s Ad Evaluation found that the brand archetype most aligned with Bumble is the everyman (or in this case, everywoman).

Bumble ads feature everyday women doing relatable things like brushing their teeth or grocery shopping, just living their lives and getting through life.

Inspirational is the value that comes across strongest in Bumble ads that show women making the first move and unafraid to chat up an eligible date.

Write to anurag.banerjee@quilt.ai for more information on how Sphere can radically transform the way your company understands online data.

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Quilt.AI
Quilt.AI

We are a culturally rooted, AI powered insights firm that converts millions of data signals into human understanding. Visit us: https://quilt.ai