Brand Strategy

Everything that went wrong with Bumble’s rebrand

The dating app faced product update backlash even before its ad campaign fell flat.
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Anna Kim

· 6 min read

It’s been dubbed the “Bumble fumble.”

The dating app’s rebrand campaign, which kicked off in April with a wiped Instagram page and what seemed to be a promise to address women’s exhaustion with online dating (and dating in general), ended with the brand issuing an apology and removing out-of-home and video ads that encouraged users to stop being celibate and made comparisons to nuns leaving the convent.

Even before the ad fiasco, some Bumble users had expressed disappointment with the rebrand reveal, which some described as more of a re-skin that didn’t address some of the user experience issues that have become the subject of frequent complaints online, particularly among younger users, some of whom say they are burned out from dating apps altogether.

Molly Barth, senior cultural strategist at consultancy sparks & honey, told us the entire rollout represented a misfire on Bumble’s part for trying to address dating fatigue without appearing to have done adequate research or reflection on the topic.

“They didn’t really understand the true reason why people are so frustrated with dating,” Barth said. “And I think that’s where they went wrong.”

Bumble Director of Communications Natalie Logan shared a statement with Marketing Brew that reads, in part, “We have heard the concerns shared about the ad’s language and understand that rather than highlighting a current sentiment towards dating, it may have had a negative impact on some of our community. This was not our intention and we…will continue to listen to the feedback from our members.”

After years of branding itself as a dating app for women, Bumble’s campaign, Barth said, felt like a betrayal to many and suggested that it may be hard to recover from as discontent grows among dating app users.

Read the room

Across the board, Bumble’s rebrand messaging seemed to either confuse or enrage viewers, starting with what it called a “rebrand” but was essentially a slightly changed look and a new option for men to message first in opposite-sex matches, marking a departure from the app’s signature feature since it first debuted in 2014.

“It’s a classic mistake marketing teams make when they confuse what’s truly an internal move (a re-skin, app update, packaging redesign, logo change) for a bigger consumer payoff,” Ellie Bamford, chief strategy officer, North America, at VML, told us via email. “Before you drop a ton of money promoting a ‘rebrand’, do a deep comparison analysis to understand the tangible changes your customer will really feel and benefit from. If it’s not at least a 50% shift, don’t overhype it.”

Barth called the rebrand itself “disappointing,” noting that a lot of people seemed excited about the prospect of alternatives like meet-ups and matchmaking services.

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When the celibacy ads went live, things seemed to to go from bad to worse for Bumble, as social media flooded with comments and response videos from those who took offense to the message and pointed out that people may choose celibacy for a number of reasons, including asexuality, fear of violence or STDs, and the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade. “Does this feel like the correct time to try and condescend [to] women and pretend like you know what’s best for them?” one TikToker asked.

“The tone was very off,” Barth said. “It tried to be playful and fun, but it just came off as very offensive.”

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In its apology, which was posted to Instagram, Bumble said the ads “were an attempt to lean into a community frustrated by modern dating, and instead of bringing joy and humor, we unintentionally did the opposite.”

Making amends?

Now, Barth said Bumble is “probably going to have to focus on rebuilding women’s trust in them” and reestablish itself as a brand that supports and empowers women, whether they’re sexually active or not.

“Bumble doesn’t have to feel so threatened by this,” she said. “There is an opportunity for them to provide experiences and opportunities for women who are pursuing celibacy to build more meaningful relationships on the app.”

In its Instagram post, Bumble apologized for the harm the ads caused and said it would make a donation to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Barth suggested that the app could additionally give users the ability to add a “celibate” badge to their profiles—something that dating app Feeld, known as a platform for people interested in unconventional arrangements like polyamorous relationships, recently chose to do in the wake of the controversy.

KS Shanti, an associate creative director at Mojo Supermarket who worked on the product update with Feeld, told us in an email that the move was part of an effort to “hopefully drive more people to explore what might be a new platform for them.” As of late May, women had adopted the tag twice as often as men, according to Nyomi Warren, lead brand designer at Feeld.

“Everyone’s dating and intimacy journey is different, and because of that, people are incredibly intentional about what apps they download and sign up for,” Shanti said. “These platforms need to be mindful of that, and understand who their user and member base is, and lean in to what they’re feeling and experiencing in the dating world.”

The dating app paradox

But inclusivity can only do so much, and dating apps are tasked with finding a way to address user fatigue in the first place. As Barth pointed out, many people are increasingly skeptical of the dating app business model, which relies on having a population of single people using—and often paying—for the apps.

“I think what’s really going to be lasting and what [Bumble] really has to work on addressing is people’s negative feelings toward the dating market,” she said. “I think that they were trying to do that with this ad, but it really fell flat.”

The answer could be as simple as listening more, as Hailey Lawrence, associate creative director at Mojo Supermarket, noted. “With this whole situation comes a new opportunity for brands and dating apps to take a deeper look at who they are talking to and why,” she said in an email. “If you don’t know your audience, then how can you give them the experiences they’re looking for?”

Correction 06/10/2024: A previous version of this story said that Bumble did not respond when reached for comment; the story has been corrected to reflect that Bumble Director of Communications Natalie Logan did respond to our request with a company statement.

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