The ‘Coffee Meets Bagel’ Dating App & The Diversity Disconnect

Image of the Coffee  Meets Bagel logo alongside cartoon drawings of a personified cup of cofee holding a Like sign and a personified bagel holding a pass sign

Foxie Rating - 2 stars - Bad
A few months ago, Conan O’Brien did a hilarious segment in which he and Dave Franco prowled for dates on the shamelessly notorious hookup app, Tinder.

During the course of Conan’s first foray into the Tinder dating scene, he and Franco ended up flirting with women (and a man) of diverse ages and ethnicities — demonstrating just how diverse the online dating consumer base is in North America.

And yet…

If you were to look at the iOS and Android store pages for the Coffee Meets Bagel (CMB) app, you’d think that North America, and the online dating pool therein, was one big ethnic monolith.

The CMB app is a little over a year old, and its self-claim-to-fame is that it “helps members make meaningful connections” by connecting them with potential matches from their circle of friends-of-friends, as gleaned from their Facebook profile.

What’s most fascinating about CMB, besides the meet-cute name, is that it was conceived by three sisters — one of whom is married, another is in a relationship (by way of the app), and the third is looking for love (via the app, of course).

The sisters wanted to create a dating site that offered a more private and less stressful way for women to look for love online without having to be digitally pinged or poked or propositioned by one random creepo after another.

What’s most disappointing, however, is the marketing of the app itself in the App Store and the Google Play store. The promo images the CMB sisters have posted in both stores give the impression that the app is targeted to a very specific subset of the North American population.

Now compare those promo faces to the faces of 16 ACTUAL members of the dating service, as shared on the Coffee Meets Bagel blog.

Images of 8 men of different ethnic backgrounds, all of whom were matched via CMB in 2014

Images of 8 women of different ethnic backgrounds, all of whom were matched via CMB in 2014

My oh my! Just look at the total disconnect between fiction and reality.

You Talkin’ to Me…??

When it comes to mobile apps, promo images are a primary marketing tool that tells a consumer:

  1. What the app is about;
  2. How it’s supposed to work; and
  3. “Is it right for me”?

When such a low-cost marketing tool is completely lacking in diversity, it sends the wrong message (“this is not right for me”), which can be a HUGE turn-off for many consumers.

Disturbingly enough, it seems the promo images for the app USED TO BE  a bit more diverse. Granted, just a bit.

Which means that at some point, before the app’s first anniversary, the CMB sisters decided it would be best to strip their promo images of any hint of ethnic or cultural diversity.

Speaking of the CMB Sisters…

What makes the whitewashing of the app’s promo images even more egregious is the fact that the CMB sisters are of Asian descent.

Arum, Dawoon and Soo Kang were born in Korea, educated at top schools in the United States (Harvard, Stanford, and Parsons, respectively), and currently reside in the culturally-diverse city of San Francisco.

Image of the Kang sisters on the set of Shark Tank, pitching Coffee Meets Bagel to the sharks in hope of an investment.
The Kang sisters on a recent episode of Shark Tank

The Kang sisters’ decision to only use Caucasian faces in the 5-6 promo images for their dating app is reflective of a misguided sensibility that everyone aspires to a European ideal of beauty — and that that is the best way to sell an aspirational product or service to the masses.

This sensibility is not only flawed and woefully outdated (it’s 2015, not 1950), but it will most certainly stunt CMB’s growth if not course corrected.

Pot, Meet Kettle

The United States and Canada are major melting pots, now more than ever, and culturally-conscious consumers — especially teenagers and young adults — want to see themselves and their values reflected in advertising and marketing.

Young Americans value diversity and organizations or brands that explicitly affirm their acceptance of diversity.

~ David Rogers, professor of digital marketing at Columbia Business School, as told to AdAge

Online dating is a $2.1 billion industry, wherein Match, eHarmony and Plenty of Fish reign supreme as the Queens of online matchmaking.

The Kang sisters say their #1 goal right now is to explode their member base to 4 million users in the next year. (The service currently has more than 100,000 members…the Kangs are vague on the exact number.)

But if the Kangs have any hope of truly competing with the Queens of Matchmaking, they need to bring their app marketing back into the 21st century — by showcasing the beautiful range of cultures, ethnicities, ages, sexual orientations, et. al., of their continental consumer base.

Case in point, check out these promo images, which were grabbed from the Google Play store pages for the Match, eHarmony and Plenty of Fish apps, respectively.

Just look at all those gorgeously diverse faces!