Innovative vs. insidious: Will Tinder users put up with native advertising?

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on January 15, 2014

From The News Desk

Recently, Tinder users started complaining that they were matched up with Mindy Lahiri -- the famous comedian who writes, produces and stars in The Mindy Project. She represented her TV character self with a bio that read: "Tiny doctor in a big city looking for love, friendship, or a donut so good it's spiritual." Tinder men and women alike wound up face-to-face with Dr. Lahiri's profile.

Tinder told Bloomberg the show didn't pay for such placement -- it's part of a "strategic partnership." Sure enough, lo and behold, a week later The Mindy Project ran "the Tinder episode" where the app is briefly mentioned during some repartee among characters on the show.

Tinder has cottoned onto a monetization strategy that's been all the rage in content for quite some time now: native advertising. Ads are seamlessly incorporated into the product to look like the product itself. Although The Mindy Project didn't pay this time, the experiment seems like a test run for Tinder native advertising in the future. Theoretically, the app could charge other television -- or film, books, or media -- brands to advertise via fake Tinder profiles.

The real question is: Would Tinder users put up with it?

Mindy is a perfect fit for the first try. The show, from episode one, has focused on the romcom adventures of Mindy Lahiri, who is tirelessly out dating and trying to ensnare one fellow or another. Her face in your Tinder app makes perfect sense, even if some users were less than pleased.

That said, users were decidedly annoyed at the intrusion. It's a bit jolting to go from this or that romantic prospect to a TV ad in your face.

Furthermore, in order for native advertising on Tinder to scale, the app would have to start creating profiles for brands not associated with romcom foibles. How weird would it be to see, say, Saving Mr. Banks' Tom Hanks character or Yahoo's new celebrity anchor Katie Couric? Their placement on a dating app would be out of the blue, and ill-fitting for the Disney or Yahoo brands.

Tinder's CEO probably hopes the app will get to a point where that's not the case. After all, he sees -- or at least markets -- Tinder as a way for strangers to network for all sorts of purposes, not just romance.

If Tinder is in fact testing native advertising out as a monetization strategy, it should be wary of pissing off customers. Users are already frustrated enough at the Tinder spam bot problem, and its unlikely they'll put up with tons of fake profiles geared to advertise towards them. Like the native advertising content companies are experimenting with, it's "a fine line between innovative and insidious."

[Image via Thinkstock]