One might imagine that a highly contagious deadly virus put a hamper on the dating scene, and one would be right. Through early 2021, 40% of Tinder users under 30 hadn’t gone on an in-person date during COVID. Remember, that’s A) people who are actively on Tinder, and B) young folks who aren’t super high-risk for serious complications.
For those who continued dating, habits changed a lot. With most indoor activities, private or public, out of the question, they moved to virtual dates or cautious outdoor meetups.
Of course, that had a huge impact on businesses that rely on a dating clientele—bars, restaurants, or movie theaters. Luckily for those that survived the worst of the pandemic, nightlife seems to be bouncing back in Roaring Twenties fashion. (Shame on me for thinking I could make an anniversary dinner reservation only five days ahead.)
But other brand categories have an opportunity to reap rewards, too. There’s a Brood X-sized group of singles waiting to re-emerge and descend on the dating scene, and they’ve taken up new hobbies and habits. Whether you’re peddling paddle boards, pasta rollers, or even PlayStation, now’s the time to put yourself out there to capture those stimmy dollars America’s singles have been socking away for the post-vaxx summer.
CAN RECREATIONAL BRANDS BE A CATALYST FOR LOVE CONNECTIONS?
As an agency that focuses on “weekend” brands—things like outdoor rec, and hobby and workshop supplies—we were curious to explore a few questions related to daters and their “down time” pursuits:
Will the many singles who’ve taken up new interests and hobbies during the pandemic want to explore those pastimes on dates?
Will singles prioritize potential partners who share their new interests?
And if so, how can brands who cater to those pastimes make hay while the sun continues to shine?
What we heard from singles across the country suggests that many of them have new priorities and pursuits, which will affect who and how they’ll date. While not everyone became a master chef or Iditarod champ, many singles, especially those who lived alone, had to find novel ways to pass the time, and after picking up new hobbies, interests, and skills, they’re eager to find sympatico partners.
“[I’ve been doing] LOTS of hiking. Exploring parks, camping, all those things became (even more) prominent in my life and it'll be important to me that a future partner wants to enjoy some of those things with me.” — Kasey, Female, Idaho
“During COVID I started getting much more experimental with my cooking, and that's a fun thing to do with a partner because you're simultaneously sharing a project, being a little adventurous, and hopefully discovering something new that you like together. I also increased my video game time, and that can be a fun activity to share because it's ready-made entertainment and it can provoke conversation without ‘requiring’ involved conversation in order to enjoy yourself.” — Rachel, Female, Wisconsin
We spoke to Erika Kaplan, a professional matchmaker, who’s picked up similar vibes among her clients, “We’ve definitely noticed that COVID allowed people to date themselves—and come to the table as more dynamic people (and in turn, daters) as they re-enter the dating world,” she said.
The idea of doing something other than just sitting at a cafe table trying to make small talk is quite appealing. FODA (Fear of Dating Again) is a real thing for lots of out-of-practice singles, and doing an activity together is a way to avoid prolonged periods of awkward eye-contact.
“[I] forgot how to interact with humans, everyone's gonna be super awkward” — Simon, Male, New York
Kaplan, the matchmaker, has seen a post-COVID evolution toward experiential dates as well. “We definitely are seeing a shift toward more activity-centered dates—even just walks or outdoor picnics,” she said. “Regardless, we’re seeing a shift away from the dark, crowded wine bar date, and probably for the better.”
THE UPSHOT FOR WEEKEND BRANDS
All this is good news for companies and brands—both goods and services—that facilitate these newfound hobbies and endeavors. Encouraging shared activities among re-emerging daters is both a chance to solidify these habits (so they don’t go the way of ZOOM happy hours) and build a connection between nascent couples that they can turn into a shared lifetime pursuit.
A few approaches for your brand to employ:
Build Connections Through Newfound Passions
The zeal of the converted is real. For these new hobbyists, money can flow freely as they gear up from scratch, and they are primed to influence others, too. Help position your brand as a way to make new co-adventures better, by showing that when couples play together, they stay together. In your creative assets, you can highlight lots of couples enjoying your product or service (and per the next point, be even more pointed when you’re talking directly to singles).
Use audience targeting (programmatic/paid social) to identify actively dating singles who partake in your pastime. Create hyper-targeted mini campaigns that illustrate how your brand can help avoid some of those FODA jitters. Whether you take a bold approach—juxtaposing the awkwardness of first dates at an intimate wine bar—or just subtly show the advantages of an activity-based first date—your brand will look like sweet relief to anxious re-emerging daters.
Consider the Two-fer
You can broaden beyond just new daters into a broader “couples activity” angle by encouraging multi-buys. Create bundle promos that incentivize both parties to invest in new gear or workshops (online or in person) to hone their skills. There’s also value in targeting your new COVID-era buyers with messages that underscore how fun it is to use your product with a partner (and even include a promo code to help their new significant other take the leap).
Just like the rest of us, brands are facing a fresh start and renewed optimism right now. Re-emerging daters represent a unique opportunity for recreational brands that can position themselves as the key to the perfect bonding experience. As all those singles who explored new hobbies this past year start to couple-up, make sure you hold on to a little piece of their wallet heart.