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Whitney Wolfe Herd, Serena Williams

Bumble Partners with Serena Williams on Female-Empowered Connections

Steve Heisler

Whitney Wolfe Herd, Serena Williams

The tennis great helped Bumble promote the three platforms on its app: dating, friendships and professional networking

Goal

Bumble launched in 2014 as a dating app that flips the script on most online encounters. Unlike its competitors, such as Tinder and OkCupid, Bumble regulates who can take the initiative. Users swipe right (interested) or left (uninterested) based on other users’ minimal profiles. If there’s a match between people of the opposite sex, the woman has 24 hours to initiate a conversation, which leaves them immune to advances from the man.

But the company also has two lifestyle products that are unrelated to dating: Bumble BFF and Bumble Bizz. Bumble BFF matches users based on common interests to enable new friendships. Users still fill out profiles, which include many of the same questions as the dating portion, such as what they might enjoy doing on a Friday night. The default option limits matches to the same sex, and often the users are married or in a relationship. Bumble Bizz is a professional networking tool that allows users space for a headline, a mini résumé and a bit about their personality in the workplace. It doubles as a safe space for women, who sometimes encounter men trying to force a work situation into a date.

Bumble wanted to bring attention to these two non-romantic ventures through its first Super Bowl ad campaign this year, “to communicate that we’re more than just a dating app,” says Chelsea Maclin, VP of marketing. The Super Bowl broadcast was also an opportunity to reach an underserved female audience. “Half of viewers [of the Super Bowl] are women, but the majority of conversations around the Super Bowl are geared toward men,” says Alex Williamson, Bumble’s chief brand officer. “This was a moment to break through the noise and speak directly to the women.”

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And who better to promote feminine power than one of the world’s all-time great athletes, tennis legend Serena Williams?

Action

The idea for Bumble’s partnership with Williams began germinating before the app ever launched. Bumble’s founder Whitney Wolfe Herd had taken it upon herself to execute a grassroots campaign; she grabbed a handful of pink tennis balls, headed to a nearby court, snapped some photos and posted them on Instagram with the caption, “The ball is in her court on Bumble.” “[Wolfe Herd] said, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could get Bumble off the ground and one day get Serena Williams?’” says Williamson, one of the company’s original employees.

When it came time to run their first Super Bowl ad, the #InHerCourt campaign was the perfect opportunity for Bumble to showcase Williams. “We partnered with Serena because not only is she an incredible global athlete, but she’s more: a mother, partner, business owner and investor,” Maclin says. “This aligns with all three [Bumble] verticals in a meaningful way.”

Williams also served as the co-creative director for the spot alongside Wolfe Herd, meaning she consulted on the initial ideas and how they were executed during the shoot. The crew was composed entirely of women and took place on a tennis court painted with the three colors associated with Bumble’s products: yellow for Date, aqua green for BFF and orange for Bizz.

The spot includes voiceover from Williams as Rita Ora’s “Soul Survivor” plays in the background. “Don’t wait to be given power,” Williams says in the commercial, “because here’s what they won’t tell you: We already have it.” The line is punctuated with the thwhack of a racquet hitting a tennis ball.

The campaign ventured beyond the TV spot itself. Williamson conducted interviews with women in corporate leadership positions, asking them to describe instances where they made the first move in dating or in business. Video compilations of those, shared on Bumble’s YouTube channel and embedded on the company’s website, acted as companion pieces to the Super Bowl ad. Among those interviewed were Nicole Portwood, VP of marketing at PepsiCo, and Natalie Egan, founder of the workplace inclusion training service Translator.

Other videos were posted on Bumble’s YouTube channel beginning a month prior to the Super Bowl, with new ones available every week or so. Most were brief chats with Williams and Wolfe Herd from the set of the commercial, about making the first move in love, work and friendship, though one was an extended behind-the-scenes look at the commercial shoot and conversations with other Bumble employees. The official Super Bowl spot was posted the day before the game.

Results

This year’s Super Bowl had an audience of 98 million, an enormous viewership for the Bumble ad. The commercial has expanded beyond its airdate and has amassed more than 2.3 million views on YouTube. Maclin says the video has been seen 9 million times across all channels. The campaign garnered 7 billion global media impressions, which included pieces in Adweek, CNN and The New York Times. The campaign drew praise from female-focused brands on Twitter. Good American, the body-positive clothing company co-founded by Khloe Kardashian, tweeted about the campaign to its more than 25,000 followers and called the spot the “highlight of the evening for us!” The account of the award-winning documentary “Miss Representation,” which boasts nearly 96,000 followers, praised the fact that the spot had “Women in front of and behind the cameras. A rarity in the #SuperBowl.”

Bumble also dubbed Feb. 4—the day after the Super Bowl—“First Move Monday.” For each “first move” made on the app through Feb. 8, Bumble donated to the Yetunde Price Resource Center, a Los Angeles-based support center for individuals living in violent communities. The company did not disclose the amount per message donated.

Bumble’s relationship with Serena Williams has only deepened. In early March, the company announced that Williams will join Bumble Fund as an investor, joining a team that includes actress and singer Priyanka Chopra Jonas. The fund was created in August 2018 to invest in women-owned businesses, particularly those run by people of color. As of this article’s publication, the fund has provided assistance for nine companies, including Translate. While Bumble could not provide figures on the exact dollar amounts they’ve invested, a spokesperson says the average award is $25,000 and the range spans from $5,000 to $250,000.

The fund’s mission complements Williams’ own Serena Ventures, introduced in 2014 and which boasts a portfolio of 30 companies. Williams joined Wolfe Herd in April to field pitches at the Bumble Fund open call—first viewing written proposals then sitting in on a round of live presentations.“We’ve learned as an organization that there’s an appetite for what we’re trying to do,” Maclin says. “Kindness and respect and quality and accountability are what we’re trying to foster.”

Steve Heisler is a copywriter, content marketer and journalist who has been published in The A.V. Club, Rolling Stone and Variety.