Paul Catmur: The business of online dating


For reasons which I doubt you’ll find as inexplicable as me, I am currently romantically unattached. Although I am practically indistinguishable from Brad Pitt in a darkened room, this does not overcome the fact that I live far from the fleshpots of the city and female company. Consequently, I have recently joined the throng in the world of online dating.

It’s an interesting market from a business standpoint as everyone is simultaneously buying and selling. Or not, as the case may be.

I thought it might be useful, particularly for the more mature date-seeker, to see if there were any lessons from my previous life in advertising to help with the chaos.

(I only see the profiles of straight women, but I think these principles apply elsewhere.)

Why are you advertising?

While the idea is to meet someone, unless you’re extraordinarily energetic, you don’t want to meet everyone. What should guide you is not to look for as many dates as possible but rather to find the right ones.

No pix, no clicks

I’ve noticed a number of online profiles with no accompanying picture. I suppose this may be so the individual can have a snoop around and see if their partner is looking for some extra curricular. However, if you genuinely have a product to sell it is a good idea to give the consumer some idea of what it looks like. You might think it’s shallow, but physical attraction is generally how nature works.

You need more than a packshot

As important as looks are, don’t rely entirely on your image. Most of us can rustle up a half-decent photo, but you really need more. In my early twenties, I’d lean against walls at parties, drinking and smoking and expecting girls to be so intrigued by my sullen pout that they would come up and chat. I’m still waiting. Words make a difference. Write some copy. Check the spelling.

Narrow your target audience

Your profile is not just there to attract, but also to filter. If you’re a fitness fanatic, make that clear and it’ll shake off the couch potatoes. If you like bingeing Netflix while eating chocolate and having your feet massaged, be upfront about it as you probably don’t want to end up with a triathlete.

Don't narrow it too far

A list of deal-breakers is a bit of a turn-off. For example:

No smokers, tattoos, pets or drugs. Must have a university education and like meditation, Confucianism, vegetarianism and be unvaxxed.

While this may genuinely describe your ideal partner there’s a strong likelihood that such a person doesn’t actually exist. And if they do that they live on Stewart Island. Be prepared to compromise.

Try to stand out

One of the key principles of advertising that should be borrowed from advertising is the need to make your product noticed among a sea of alternatives.

For example, it’s not uncommon to see the following sort of thing in profiles:

Likes: catching up for a coffee, eating out, exercise, movies.

In advertising terms, this is like saying that your car has wheels and an engine. These activities merely mark you down as a human being. Be a little quirky. What kinds of movies do you like? What kind of food? What about that time you worked as an elephant wrangler in a circus?

Keep up with industry jargon

ONS = One night stand

LTR = Long-term relationship

Sapiosexual = Turned on by intelligence

GSOH = Good sense of humour

This last one is interesting as almost everybody claims to have a GSOH. I think this is probably something for others to judge. Everybody likes laughing, even me, but what people actually find funny is often radically different. Monty Python or Mrs Brown’s Boys?

I particularly avoid anyone that says, “must make me laugh”. You should be looking for a partner, not auditioning a comedian.

Be what it says on the tin

It’s pointless to organise a date with someone who is immediately disappointed. The ideal response when you actually meet up with someone is, “excellent, their profile gave me a good idea of what to expect” rather than “are you kidding me?”

Don’t sell a Toyota Camry as a Ferrari. It’s not about under-promising and over-delivering, it’s about meeting expectations.

Do I listen to my own advice?

Well, as any advertising agency will tell you, advertising themselves is the hardest brief of all. Consequently, I’ve yet to find a 50-something ex-swimsuit model with a PhD in military history and a love of fishing, cryptic crosswords and mountain biking. Maybe I should try Stewart Island?

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