COVID-19 has been a consistent story of inequity for minority groups. Just as Black and Hispanic populations have been infected with the coronavirus at higher rates than white people, vaccine uptake remains lower among those populations. Only 9% of total vaccinations have gone to Black people, who represent 12% of the population, and 13% to Hispanics, who represent 17% of the population. Across 41 states, white people have been vaccinated at a rate 1.5 times higher than Black people, and 1.4 times higher than Hispanics. Working to fix the disparities, the Biden White House has recruited unusual allies for its latest strategy—dating apps.
Last week, the White House announced an “outside initiative” with Match Group, parent company of the world’s most popular dating apps, including Tinder, Hinge, and OkCupid. Across its roster of apps, Match is set to roll out incentives for its now-antsy users to get vaccinated. But leaders of Match’s minority-focused brands, namely BLK and Chispa, feel a particular responsibility to speak directly to their bases, which have experienced specific vaccination barriers and broader hesitancy, to help increase the uptake.
“This is really our effort to support the White House in their goals of ending the pandemic and helping our individual communities,” says Julia Estacolchic, head of brand marketing for Chispa. “We are doing our part to help with a bigger goal.”
Spanish for “spark,” Chispa caters to Hispanic singles, and helps people who want to date within the community meet others with similar backgrounds, values, and experiences. It’s one of the apps within Match Affinity, Match’s portfolio of brands serving niche audiences that share commonalities, such as race, age, or religion. Both Chispa and BLK, for Black singles, launched in 2017, and have reached 4 million and 5 million downloads, respectively.
The narrow audiences mean these apps can tailor their messaging in a “hyper-targeted” way. BLK users know they’re not a secondary thought or a “consumer segment that steps to the front of the line because it’s Black History Month,” says Jonathan Kirkland, BLK’s head of marketing and brand. “We focus on Black singles 100% of the time.” That focus is not only key for helping singles find romantic partners, but also for being a resource for its community at times of social uncertainty, when it aims to “spark action for positive change.” During the 2020 election, for instance, BLK partnered with the Civic Alliance to recruit 1,200 of its members as poll workers when many older volunteers dropped out due to COVID-19.
Now, that social priority is vaccination uptake. Starting June 1, users on both apps will be able to display their vaccinated statuses via a badge on their profile, displayed as a check mark and the word Vaxified on BLK, or Vacunado on Chispa, which potential matches will see. That’ll serve as peace of mind: Based on April data, 56% of Chispa users and 45% of BLK users would want to know if a match had received the vaccine before meeting for a date. Recent OkCupid data revealed that vaccinated singles are 14% more likely to receive matches. Vaccinated users will also receive a free “boost,” usually a paid feature where users can skip to the front of the line for a short space of time and be viewed first by potential matches. (Vaccination status will be declared on a trust system, without the need for proof.)
The aim is not solely to reward the vaccinated, but to educate groups with higher rates of hesitancy or structural barriers. Many minorities have struggled to be immunized due to a lack of access to healthcare services, or inability to take time off from work; some Hispanics are concerned about putting their immigration status in jeopardy. Among the Black community, there’s considerable mistrust of the U.S. government due to its history of conducting racist medical experiments like the Tuskegee Study.
Much of the time the principal barrier is lack of information. To raise awareness, both companies are partnering with the Ad Council, giving the nonprofit free ad space on their apps. Clicking on those ads, or on the push notifications that the apps will also send out, will take users to the Ad Council’s “It’s Up to You” campaign page, which answers questions about the vaccine and where to receive it so that people can make informed decisions. “We don’t want to preach to them,” Kirkland says. “We don’t want to be like we’re the parent, pointing a finger.”
This is all part of Match’s collaboration with the Biden administration to help reach its goal of 70% of Americans having had at least one dose of the vaccine by July 4. Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, started a White House press briefing last week by announcing the drive. “We have finally found the one thing that makes us all more attractive: a vaccination,” he said, referring to the OkCupid datapoint. He mentioned the social isolation and loneliness brought on for many by the pandemic. “People are interested in other things in life besides their vaccine,” he said. “But the vaccine enables people to get back to the things that they enjoy in life.”
All of Match Group’s brands will participate in the initiative. OkCupid is also giving vaccinated users free boosts; Hinge will give them a free “rose,” and Tinder a free “super like,” ways in which users can indicate to potential dates that they’re particularly interested. Tinder is also releasing a “suite of resources to educate and connect members with their nearest vaccination site.” But these mainstream apps have to target more broadly due to their more diverse clientele. Not so with Chispa: “What we’re doing to stand out,” says Estacolchic, “is specifically talking to Latinos in a way that is relevant to them, in a way that is meaningful to them.”
For instance, she says physical proximity and contact as well as large family gatherings and celebrations are culturally important for a lot of Chispa’s users. “It is really important that we can help them go back to those things that are a key pillar for our community.” These cultural touch points will feature in the ongoing ads to be rolled out in the apps and via social media posts. One Chispa Instagram post reads: “Get back to besos y abrazos” (“kisses and hugs”). Another reads: “Ready pa’l party again?” (short for para el party, or “for the party”). The content, and language employed—the consistent use of Spanglish—are formulated specifically for a Hispanic audience.
Both companies will also be donating to community organizations, such as faith-based groups, that have been effective on the grassroots level to mobilize people to get the shot. While most recipients are yet to be announced, one is the Concilio, a nonprofit that hosts vaccination drives in Hispanic neighborhoods across Dallas, the home of Match Group.
Because these apps have the advantage of such precise platforms, both view the campaign as a responsibility to the communities they serve. “It’s not just about that one user getting the vaccine,” Kirkland says. “It’s about the community being safe because you have the vaccine.”