Hive mind: Still the place to find your honey? Bumble bungles ad campaign

Erika Ettin, Tribune News Service on

Published in Lifestyles

In case you don’t know, Bumble is a dating app founded in 2014 by Whitney Wolfe Herd, who was also a co-founder of Tinder. Over the years, it’s been known for its unique approach to online dating, especially with regards to how women interact with potential matches. One of the most distinct features of Bumble is that it requires women to make the first move, or send the first message. This feature was designed to empower women to take the lead in initiating conversations and setting the tone for interactions.

Bumble announced a big relaunch in April, and with that came a big amount of anticipation … and an even bigger ad budget. The relaunch was lackluster at best, sharing that 10 years after creating an app where women have to make the first move, Bumble is now allowing men to start conversations on its platform, in the form of an “opening move” that lets female users set a prompt to which men can respond to initiate a conversation. In my work as a dating coach and avid user of Bumble for my clients, I can confidently say that this addition (which already existed for a few months) is neither novel nor relaunch-worthy. But let’s put that aside for a moment…

For the big reveal, Bumble also introduced a new ad campaign. I’ll be the first—and certainly not the last—to say that it was shocking. And not in a good way. Some of the larger ads read:

“A vow of celibacy is not the answer.”

“You know full well a vow of celibacy is not the answer.”

“Thou shalt not give up dating and become a nun.”

Tone deaf? That’s an understatement. In response, many people, especially those on TikTok, came at Bumble, rightfully so, for encouraging women to solve their dating problems by… just having sex?

There are many personal, cultural, religious and practical reasons why someone might choose to be celibate. A few, but certainly not even close to all, of those might be concerns about sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy (especially in the post-Roe world we currently live, where women’s bodies are not regulated by the very women living in them), past trauma/assault, asexuality, or simply personal values or goals that are no one’s business but the person making them.

Just as quickly as the relaunch, a mere 13 days later, Bumble reversed course, coming out with a statement on Instagram:


“We made a mistake. Our ads referencing celibacy were an attempt to lean into a community frustrated by modern dating, and instead of bringing joy and humor, we unintentionally did the opposite.

"Some of the perspectives we heard were: from those who shared that celibacy is the only answer when reproductive rights are continuously restricted; from others for whom celibacy is a choice, one that we respect; and from the asexual community, for whom celibacy can have a particular meaning and importance, which should not be diminished. We are also aware that for many, celibacy may be brought on by harm or trauma.

"For years, Bumble has passionately stood up for women and marginalized communities, and their right to fully exercise personal choice. We didn't live up to these values with this campaign and we apologize for the harm it caused.

"So, here's what we're doing: We're removing these ads from our global marketing campaign. Bumble will be making a donation to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, among other organizations, as a part of our ongoing efforts to support the work being done around the world to support women, marginalized communities, and those impacted by abuse.

"We will also be offering these partners this billboard space to display an ad of their choice for the duration of our reserved billboard time.

"Please keep speaking up and telling us how we can be better. We care about you and will always be here for you. With love and sincere appreciation.”

Here’s the thing: Bumble is still a great tool for meeting people, one I will continue using with clients. Did they mess up? They sure did. Did they apologize? Also yes. Is that enough?

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