The tile of the research I have been working on is Persuade to Date: A meta-analyses of advertising appeals of online dating sites (ODSs) from North American, South American, and European countries. After almost two years of intensive work, we—I and Professor Aditi Paul—have completed the first part of the study, i.e., analyzing the text-based advertising appeals used by ODSs in 51 countries spanning 3 continents. In this report, I will describe the goals, methodology, and share what I have learnt from this experience.
The research project analyzed the motivational appeals used in text-based advertising messages by 1,023 ODSs in 51 countries across North America, South America, and Europe. The purpose of this study was to examine the content and structure of the advertising messages used by online dating applications to persuade users to sign up with them. Furthermore, given the global usage of online dating applications, we will be comparing the content and structure of the advertising messages of these online dating applications across three continents. Through these cross-national and cross-continental comparative analyses we will be able to investigate the systematic differences that may exist in the type of advertising messages used by these applications, and if those differences can be explained taking cultural and socio-economic factors into account.
In this project I was responsible for collecting and coding the data. The first step was to shortlist the countries from each continent. We made the decision of using countries with the highest internet penetration in each continent. We used statista.com to generate this list. It led us to selecting 29 countries from Europe, 12 countries from South America, and 10 countries from North America. After this, I was responsible for making a list of the top 20 most popular dating sites in each country. To do so, I Google searched the following: “online dating application” or “online dating website” and the name of the country I was researching. To extend and improve my data set, I also used the ratings of the most successful services. Subsequently, I collected their advertising appeals and put them all into Excel file in order to start the codification process. The next step was to standardize the format and length of advertising messages from all ODSs, i.e., establishing the unit of analysis. The decision that Professor Paul came up with was that the most prominent advertising message that appeared on the homepage of each ODS without having to scroll down/sideways would be considered as the unit of analysis. When the ODSs did not have such a message, she instructed me to scroll down and re-iterate this process, i.e., look for the most prominent advertising message. After we had established the unit of analysis, we moved on to coding the motivational appeals used in each of these advertising messages. Based on previous literature, Professor Paul came up with 7 motivations:
M1 (Motivation1)- Relationship; fall in love, build a serious relationship etc.
M2-Sex; find a sexual partner, seek someone with the same sexual interests etc.
M3-Peer pressure; because everyone is doing it, to be trendy etc.
M4-Socialize; make new friends, flirt, broaden social network etc.
M5-Entertainment; for fun, combat boredom etc.
M6-Design; ease of use, visually appealing, free of cost, geolocality etc.
M7-Identity; try new identities, escape from who you are, live out a non-sexual fantasy etc.
The process of coding these motivational appeals was time consuming and required clear understanding, precision, objectiveness, and patience on my part. That is why we spent a lot of time in training me how to identify these appeals and reach a satisfactory inter-coder reliability before I was assigned the task of independently coding the 1,005 messages. Professor Paul had created an extremely thorough coding manual spelling out exactly what we needed to look at to identify these motivational appeals. During the training process, we picked 50 advertisement messages and broke them in batches of 10. We would read the manual, and independently code 10 advertising messages based on the 7 motivations. After that we would compare our coding, resolve the disagreements through discussion, and then move on to code the next 10 until we reached satisfactory inter coder reliability.
Professor Paul has all the coded data now. She is working on analyzing this data along with her colleague in Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. We have taken the project one step further by including country-level indices such as Hofstede’s indices and Globe Study’s indices which indicate how countries differ on cultural factors such as power distance, individualism, uncertainty, masculinity, indulgence, and gender egalitarianism. We are trying to understand if these indices could predict the difference in the motivational appeals used by the ODSs of different countries. She is still working on the hierarchical linear modeling part. However, a preliminary analysis of the data has showed the following:
|%of ODSs||Relationship||Sex||Peer Pressure||Socialize||Entertainment||Design||Identity|
As is evident, appealing to relationships, socialization, and effectiveness of website/technology were the most frequently used appeals across all 3 continents. While socialization were higher in south and north America compared to Europe, entertainment was more prominent in Europe compared to the Americas. Peer pressure also seemed to be more frequent in American countries compared to Europe. What was interesting to note is that even though ODSs have often been blamed for promoting “hook up culture”, the advertising messages used by these websites rarely used sex as an appeal. Also, very few ODSs appealed to experimentation with identity or escapism.
In closing, I want to share my experience in working on this project with Professor Paul. Throughout the research work, Professor Paul was always supportive and open to any questions I had. Before taking any next steps of our study, she always explained to me the logic and reasoning behing the methodology and also shed light on the goals and purposes of the study . This helped me understand what I was doing.
This experience showed me the importance of having an unbiased and objective approach in order to discover and understand the unknown. This little change in the way we perceive the world can extend the human abilities to get to know more. I have become much more passionate about conducting research and the confidence in my ability to do research has also increased a significant amount. I have realized that this is research is definitely going to be a defining factor in my career ahead.