Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
Recent years have seen a proliferation of online dating apps and websites, and inevitably there have been a number of complaints to the ASA about advertising for these services. Below we’ve highlighted some key issues to bear in mind when promoting dating services.
Avoid sexual imagery in untargeted mediums
Overtly sexual imagery and language should not be used in mediums likely to be seen by children, and offensive gratuitous imagery should be avoided entirely. Untargeted ads that featured images such as a woman's legs with thong knickers pulled down to around her knees and a woman in a provocative pose that focused on her cleavage have been found irresponsible and likely to cause serious or widespread offence (comeletsplay.com, 20 February 2013 and Anastasia International Inc, 2 July 2014).
Some imagery may be permitted, as long as it is not gratuitous nor sexually explicit. Previously, the ASA has not upheld complaints about shots of couples kissing passionately, stating that the ad was not likely to cause serious or widespread offence (Match.com, 2017). That said, in 2023, the ASA upheld complaints over a dating ad that featured women in revealing tops, dresses and bikinis, one with the claim "I just want friends with benefits". Though the ASA noted that the ads were not explicit, they were sexually suggestive and provocative, and should have been targeted appropriately (Action First Holding Ltd, 4 October 2023). For more information on this issue, see our guidance on Offence: Sex, along with our guidance on Children: Targeting.
Support popularity claims with suitable evidence
One advertiser claimed that on their website “someone finds their match once every ten minutes”. The advertiser, Match.com, stated that they had performed surveys of relevant members – however, the ASA found that the survey only included paid subscribers (rather than free users, who could browse without being able to send messages). Furthermore, a number of age groups had been excluded. The ASA concluded that the claim was based on biased information, exaggerated the chances of the likelihood of a match and was therefore misleading (Match.com, 21 July 2010).
In another case the ASA ruled that the claim “London's #1 Speed Dating Events & Singles Parties” was misleading as the advertiser could not demonstrate that their events were attended by more members than other speed dating events and singles parties in London (DateinaDash.com, 20 November 2013). For further guidance on this topic please see Types of claims: “No. 1” and/or Comparisons: Identifiable competitors.
Be upfront about costs
It’s common to claim that a dating app or site is “completely free”. However, the ASA often sees complaints about these claims when some functionality is saved for those who are paying subscribers. In these cases, the ads should make clear which features are “free” and also that some aspects are not, and avoid saying the service is “completely free to use” (or similar).
Furthermore, advertisers who wish to advertise paid packages are reminded to ensure that any costs or savings claims are genuine and clear. In 2018, the ASA upheld a complaint about the savings claims on a dating site, finding that the packages had never been sold at the advertised price (Since Being Single Ltd, 24 January 2018). For more information on how to price promotional products, please see our guidance on Promotional Savings Claims, and for more information about general pricing, see Prices: Overview.
Do not mislead niche market consumers
Consumers are often searching for people who share their views and values; advertisers should not take advantage of this by implying that dating apps or websites are only open to specific groups or those with certain interests if they are not.
For example, a dating site that gave the impression it was for Catholic people looking to meet others with the same faith, when in fact it was open to other users as well, was found to be misleading (Inch by Inch Ltd, 13 August 2014). The ASA upheld a similar complaint regarding a website for single parents, where it was found that a large proportion of members either did not have kids, nor had indicated whether they were happy to meet a single parent (Global Personals Ltd, 9 January 2013).