How HBO is using a dating app to market itself

HBO may be known for its original shows, but its latest marketing push focuses on its collection of studio films.

The company has teamed up with dating-app-turned-lifestyle-brand Bumble to host a two-night event called “Stay home to the movies” on August 15 and 16. Guests, including Bumble users who received an in-app invite for the experience, visited an approximately $30 million apartment near Washington Square Park in New York. Attendees were divided into six different movies, such as “Girls Trip,” “Back to the Future” and “It,” based on a personality quiz. There were 65 guests each night, with the waitlist at 1,200 per night.

As HBO competes with the rise of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and soon-to-come Disney streaming service, HBO is promoting its selection of movies to offer customers along with exclusive shows. HBO is still among the top streaming services with 5 million streaming customers in the U.S. and 142 million subscribers through cable and streaming worldwide, as of February 2018. Netflix reported 130 million subscribers for the second quarter of 2018.

HBO is also competing with the rise of theater subscription services, notably MoviePass along with AMC A-List and Sinemia, to bring people to watch new films. Meanwhile, Bumble is looking for a point of differentiation with other dating apps, including Facebook’s new product.

Both brands have chosen to invest in experiential marketing, separately, and now together, to help with retention of old users and lure new ones. HBO regularly hosts experiential events for the launch of new shows, while Bumble has hosted pop-ups in certain markets to celebrate its community. The theme of the combined event was a movie date night, where the idea was that Bumble users could have a first date that was a movie, without having to pay to go to the theater and without the uncomfortable ask of inviting somewhere. It’s what another brand — aka not HBO — may call a “Netflix and Chill.”

“We felt like the brands and our key audiences were a good alignment, younger, influential, socially connected and looking for something to do,” said Jason Mulderig, vp of brand and product marketing at HBO.

Bumble’s director of partnerships Andee Olson said the company knew there was crossover between its audience and HBO’s ahead of the event.

To promote their value and earn some impressions on Instagram and Snapchat, the brands hired Giant Spoon to create the program along with creative agency Mekanism. HBO also worked with Giant Spoon on its Westworld activation during South by Southwest this past year.

Part of the joint brief included equal representation of the brands, which Giant Spoon achieved through yellow accents (Bumble’s color) throughout the movie-watching rooms. For example, one of the rooms had a tub full of candy with yellow wrappers and rubber ducks, ideal for an Instagram photo or Boomerang.

“Both [brands] need people to sign up for their services and brand awareness and brand love. We were trying to balance all of that and make it seem like a true collaboration, felt like the two of them were coming together,” said Marc Simons, cofounder of Giant Spoon.

View this post on Instagram

HBO X BUMBLE @bumble #hbo

A post shared by TAKARA SEWITT (@takarasewitt) on


When it comes to tracking return on investment for clients, Giant Spoon’s Simons said the agency doesn’t actually guarantee anything. Part of its strategy is extreme attention to detail which includes fitting in as many elements as possible in hopes of organic impressions on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.

“There are no guarantees in our business. We need to take a chance on this stuff and make it as good as it can be and fill it with as many possible ways to get a return. We’re making sure we’re holding the bar that it’s something that will truly cause FOMO,” Simons said.

For a recent event with STX Entertainment, they sold out the experience with about 300 to 400 people a night. Due to demand, Simons said they chose to add three more nights.

While the agency works mostly with entertainment companies on experiential marketing, Simons said he’s seen a growth of interest from clients in tech and CPG brands.

“We’re trying to make sure we’re working on projects with the clients that truly want to create experiences versus a little stunt or an event marketing execution,” Simons said.

Giant Spoon also has been focused on growing its businesses beyond experiential. For example, Giant Spoon recently worked with HP on long-form videos about esports and gaming. For now, about 2o to 25 percent of the company’s revenue comes from experiential.

More in Marketing

Women’s sports marketing boom ‘huge up and coming opportunity,’ spurs new agency services

Women’s sports are having a moment. Brands, media companies and agencies are looking to get in on the action.

Creators still turning down work as the Hollywood SAG-AFTRA strike continues

The Hollywood strikes were supposed to be a game changer for many of them, but the situation hasn’t quite lived up to the hype.

Agencies move on from creating content for specific platforms to focus on short-form video

Given the rise of short-form video, agencies that focus on the format, rather than specific platform expertise, will reap the rewards.