FINAL REPORT

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
Europe

(576)

52.3 1.9 22.4 47.2 13.2 90.8 .2
S. Amer

(204)

53.4 .5 31.4 63.2 7.4 96.1 0
N. Amer

(242)

51.7 1.2 34.3 62.4 7.9 93.8 .4

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.

 

Blog 3: Updates About the Progress

During the winter break, I finalized the coding of already mentioned advertising motivations: M1-7. Before doing so, I and Professor Aditi Paul made the last attempt of coding the same 102 sample websites in order to improve our inter-coder reliability in order to let me take care of the coding by myself. However, I still needed the professor’s assistance in some of the cases; I had been asking her many questions about how to apply the coding manual instructions in practice. This experience let me realize the importance of having support. It is because sometimes you may feel shy to ask questions since you are worried that no one wants to help you. However, it is very significant to be critical and doubtful while coding since this prevents you from being biased, misunderstandings, and misinterpretations. Thus, I realized the importance of having a third party who is willing to give advice and/or support. Fortunately, Professor Aditi is always ready to help what really facilitates my work progress.

Currently, we take care of the second part of the research which is about analyzing the visual aspects of the websites. This part is going to be very time consuming since I will have to visit all the sample websites and subsequently, manage appropriate categories of the codification such as: video/photo, gender, race, and age of the subjects depicted in the primary visual element. However, we are still developing the ideas of what other categories—besides the mentioned ones—of the websites’ visual aspects we may take under consideration.

I and Prof. Aditi are reviewing a very interesting research paper which discovers the prevalence patterns in the images of print advertisements. It distinguishes: feminine touch (which is basically all about showing women as an object of desire, to some extent, it is associated with the objectification of females), ritualization of subordination (which is showing women as smaller than a man, physical lowering), and some other categories. We may apply the research’s explorations and concepts to our study. What is more, we will train each other on improving the inter-coder reliability (just like we did it before coding seven motivations) to make sure that I understand the coding manual instructions properly and we both agree on how to interpret the samples.

Moreover, we have already been accepted to present our findings at the International Communication Association conference that will be held in Washington DC. That is why we will also prepare ourselves for the event, by making presentations and discussing any possible questions we may get from the audience. This is an entirely new experience requiring me to improve my public speaking, presentation, and analytical skills. It will be challenging but I really look forward to it!

Blog 2: Great Research Experience: Progress

Since the beginning of the year, we have started to finalize the project work because of the fact that we applied for the International Communication Association (ICA)conference. Intensified progress generated some problems associated with cleaning up the dataset, establishing new coding manual methodology, and therefore, appropriate coding which I found challenging and time-consuming.

First of all, me and my professor had to clean up the data set to prepare a fundamental database determining the quality of the subsequent coding. It was done by verifying each website’s advertising appeal in order to keep a consistency in the methodology of collecting the data set. For example, Badoo for Argentina has its Argentinian subdomain (Badoo.com/Argentina) but in Google search results, after typing “online dating in Argentina”, there was a link Badoo’s main website (Badoo.com). We decided to collect the adverting appeals from both sources. It is because of the fact that the subdomain targets specifically an Argentinian audience (therefore, the advertising message is adjusted to appeal to this nation). Moreover, we kept an advertising appeal from the main website, to be consistent with our rule of collecting what shows up in the Google search results (which is described in detail in the previous blogs). After we went through this long process of improving the data set, we started to do the same thing with the coding process.

Even though the coding methods (of the online dating services’ advertising appeals) were prepared few months before I started the actual coding while applying the concepts into practice, me and my professor, found out that we have some disagreements in how we understand the coding instructions. We determined the disagreements in the following way. We both coded the same sample data—consisting of 106 cleaned-up websites— on our own in order to compare the work by matching our coding. When we found any differences (in how we coded a website), we thoroughly discussed our reasoning and logic behind the way we coded it. Sometimes, it required us to change the coding specifications since they were too general or not applicable in practice.

Subsequently, when we clarified any disagreements, my professor let me code all the dataset. This part is still in progress. However, I already know that it is a very responsible assignment since my coding will be directly used for the analysis. Not only it requires me to work on it for not too long (to prevent myself from making mistakes) but also, I have to be very precise, consistent with the established methodology, and objective. It challenges me, but after putting much efforts into this work, I will be proud of the quality and reliability of our research findings. That is why I am even more motivated to act!

The work let me and my Professor ask the following questions:

  • Which motivation is the most frequently occurring across all websites?
  • Which motivation is the least frequently occurring across all websites?
  • Which motivation occurs more in Europe vs South America vs  North America?

The most popular motivation refers to the M7 (Motivation 7) which stands for the design of the website since most of the dating services talk about the fact that it is for free. The least frequently occurring one is M2 which stands for sex. It is astonishing for me because I thought that this category would be more commonly applied as a part of the online dating websites’ marketing.  However, I have noticed that in the South American countries the visual and text appeals tend to be more sexually suggestive, whereas in the European countries the messages appeal by talking about family, love, or happiness. The US has the most hook up dating services but this number is still not as high as I expected it to be. Therefore, I am more and more excited about the ending results of the research since the analysis can reveal very astonishing information

Persuade to Date: A meta-analyses of advertising appeals of online dating applications from American, European, and Asian countries.

The title of the research is: Persuade to Date: A meta-analyses of advertising appeals of online dating applications from American, European, and Asian countries. The study will examine the advertising appeals and messages used by the online dating services. We will discover persuasiveness of the core messages used by the most popular dating websites and applications within the European, American (Northern and Southern), and Asian countries.  What is more, we will do a cross-national and cross-continental analysis which will explore any potential differences—between the types of the advertising appeals—which may exist.  If the differences will be discovered, we will consider cultural, economic, and social factors.

To find the most popular dating websites and applications for each country from given continents, I used the Google search where I was typing the following: “online dating application” or “online dating website” and the name of the country I was researching. I assumed that the outcomes (websites and applications) that showed up, were one of the most popular for a certain nation. What is more, I was also using the ratings of the most successful services if they popped out in the Google search results. It was even more helpful in determining which online dating services are popular in a certain society. Subsequently, I collected their advertising appeals and I put all of them into the table. The table was created for each country separately. It consisted of name of the dating service, core message, and the references.

Furthermore, I determined the most essential and significant parts of these marketing messages based one the following criteria: emotional, wealth, religion, social influence (other do, so do I) etc. On the next step, I had to create an Excel file which will be used as a material for coding. The following information was provided in a given order to each of the excel column: continent, country, advertising message, added features, the original language of the provided advertising message, determination whether the dating service automatically translated the website into English, determination whether the service is global or local, determination whether the service is an application or the website.

After collecting the data (the marketing messages/advertising appeals) from all of the dating websites I found, my Professor- Aditi Paul prepared a sheet with seven different motivations which make the potential customers join a certain dating service in order to do coding manual. The motivations are the following:

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-Indetity; Try new identities, escape from who you are, live out a non-sexual fantasy etc.

Next, we coded the following aspects of the appeals our team collected:

  1. whether an appeal mentions a sexual orientation (by referring to LGBTQIA),
  2. whether any of the appeals mentions a religion orientation

Subsequently, we started to code the visual aspects of the samples:

  1. a primary visual element (video, photo, no element, or other)
  2. composition of the primary visual element (single, couple, or group),
  3. apparent race of the apparent visual element,
  4. apparent age of the primary visual element
  5. social distance of the primary visual element (intimate, close personal, far personal, far social, public)
  6. coding dress (demure, suggestive, partially clad, nude, not applicable)

This experience will teach me how to collect and manage data, have an objective approach, and do coding. Moreover, I have already taken a Statistics class, so I can apply the theory—I got to know from this class—into practice. This research is one step towards knowing how to understand the world.  It is done by finding the variables whose dependence we examine and by trying to explain why there are correlated, we discover new things, become more open, and develop ourselves. This is also what I expect from this study.