Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards
Bumble Asks: Why Is ‘The Romance Gap’ Still a Thing?
Advertising Agency
Amsterdam, Netherlands
72andSunny Amsterdam’s Pauline Stickel on the International Women’s Day campaign that questions why gender inequality still exists in relationships, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani

“Romance isn’t equal, but it can be”, according to dating app Bumble’s International Women’s Day campaign. The 90-second film features a range of women who talk through having different sets of expectations within a relationship, as opposed to outside of it. The spot features the sentiment of 6,770 men and women surveyed across Europe, of which 85% demanded equality, yet 74% of these people mentioned different relationship experiences based on gender identity.

The bee-themed dating app wanted to “create a cultural moment” in its campaign that launched on March 8th and did so by questioning outdated dating standards, which were created unequally based on an old-fashioned dynamic. The campaign asks, “If romance was equal, how come HE still has to ask ME out?” and features a host of women who question why gender stereotypes are so often followed when couples are concerned. The women who feature were chosen because of their fundamental real-ness – in their experience and stories – as a bid to be as relatable as possible.

72andSunny’s brand strategist Pauline Stickel speaks to LBB’s Nisna Mahtani about conveying a universal truth to create a cultural movement. 

LBB> Can you talk us through the initial stages of creating ‘The Romance Gap’?

Pauline> Bumble approached us with a request to create a cultural moment for International Women's Day. While we loved the ambition and task, we also knew how challenging and difficult it could be. Through social listening at the very beginning of our research, we saw that International Women’s Day is a day that creates momentum. Women mark this day to empower each other and celebrate their sisterhood. It is a day marked by mutual inspiration and optimism. Which makes it so easy to get everything wrong when you’re a brand that tries to insert yourself into the conversation. 

So we asked ourselves, “How on earth do we address a problem or tension without putting a burden on the day?”, “How can we land on a universal truth that resonates with all women but also doesn't feel like a cheap, generic idea?”, “Rather than garner attention, how do we actually create meaningful change by women for women?”

LBB> What were the findings that informed this campaign and can you tell us more about them?

Pauline> Research shows that most gen z and millennial women – including the women in my social network and myself – do not believe maintaining traditional gender roles is important. We challenge traditional roles in education, and in the workplace. We fight for equal pay and an equal role in society. But there’s a strange – maybe even a bit shocking – contradiction that happens when we start dating and getting into relationships. The research also shows that no matter how progressive or ‘self-proclaimed-a-feminist’ a woman may be, she still expects a man to ask her out, go in for the first kiss, give her flowers and propose for marriage. Through my own digging, I came across countless tweets such as this: “I might be a feminist, but I still like you to text first.” So we started asking ourselves, What is actually going on here? Why is it that in dating, our fight for equality is pushed into the shadows in favour of more traditional role models? And as we dug deeper, we realised one major reason for this is that romance is deeply intertwined with traditional gender norms. We love it when a man takes control. We get turned on when power dynamics are involved and he lavishes us with attention. We just find it romantic to be unequal.  

So whilst we always talk about equal pay, we realised that we had landed on another invisible barrier that keeps women from equality and we decided to surface it, give it a name, ‘The Romance Gap’ and encourage women to make a change.

LBB> This campaign launched on International Women’s Day, why was the timing of this release so significant?

Pauline> When we started our thinking we immediately felt there was something inherently sticky and intriguing about dating and International Women’s Day. Because the two at first don’t feel like they naturally make sense together. Dating has never been a space that traditionally puts women first, or on an equal playing field. If anything, it’s a space that often exploits women. So this already created an interesting tension, especially because Bumble is an antidote to that. Bumble is a brand that has always been about women’s empowerment and breaking biases – in dating and beyond. Of course, we knew we’d have to treat this very carefully, as this is a delicate topic and a fine line. If done wrong, this could feel really off and tone-deaf. But if done right, it could really have the oomph we’d need to do something real and meaningful on International Women’s Day. 

LBB> How long did it take to create this campaign, from start to finish?

Pauline> We started the strategic digging in mid-November with final assets delivered on March 4th, in time for International Women's Day on the 8th.


LBB> The women’s words carry the audience through the story - how long did it take to perfect the script and what was the feeling you wanted to convey?

Pauline> I can't say that we arrived at the final script quickly. Thankfully we had the benefit of a patient and thoughtful executive creative director, Laura Visco, to help steer us in finding the right balance between many seemingly opposing sides. We needed to represent the brand but also ensure we stayed true to real women. It was particularly important to us not to lose our lightness and joy in dating, while at the same time addressing a relatively ‘heavy’ topic. It was also important for us to make clear that The Romance Gap doesn’t only affect women, but equally men. And perhaps most importantly, we wanted this to be a piece of work and an initiative that doesn't blame or alienate women, but rather empowers us all. To chart a path towards a future where we will all be equal in dating and relationships, too. 

LBB> What were you looking for during the casting process and how did you select the women to feature?

Pauline> Because The Romance Gap touches all of us in some way and is a part of our lives every day, even when we might not realise it, it was important to us that the entire campaign was characterised and accompanied by authenticity. That's why it was important for us to choose real women in the casting process, to tell real stories and to reflect real diversity. Women with whom others recognise themselves, with whom they can identify, who embody a strong attitude, and who inspire us to hopefully change our way of thinking.

LBB> How did you ensure the campaign fell in line with the tone of voice of the client? And were there any challenges in doing this?

Pauline> In general I believe Bumble's tone of voice is precisely what we needed for this campaign – light-hearted but not naïve, affirming but not patronising. Cognizant of the real everyday challenges and plights of women. Our director, Amy Becker Burnet, shared the same conviction and belief that real feminism isn’t about telling women how to act or how to look or feel, but rather asking them and empowering them to find their own voice. Working with Bumble across other projects previously made it easier for us to strike the right tone that the client felt comfortable with and best represented them. However, we kept challenging each other to find the balance between the seriousness of the theme, but also striking an empowering tone that oriented people toward the hopeful tone of positive change.

LBB> What were some of the things you had to keep in mind to ensure this campaign was globally relevant?

Pauline> Although it became clear to us fairly quickly by the unanimous shaking of heads that we had stumbled upon a strong and global insight, we still wanted to make sure that our finding was true to people outside advertising and reflected across all relevant markets. Together with YouGov, Bumble surveyed 6,770 adult men and women in the UK, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland about the different expectations around gender roles and identity in romantic relationships and dating, and the importance of equality in relationships. The findings of this research not only validated that The Romance Gap was undeniably real, it also helped provide texture and gave us guidance in ensuring we cast women from all relevant markets in the film. So that the stories being told came from real women talking to real women on International Women’s Day. 

LBB> What have the responses to the video been like so far?

Pauline> I have been following influencer posts with fascination and scrolling through the reactions and comments of the users. What touches and encourages me personally are the people who, inspired by our work, start to reflect on themselves and their relationships. Some may even feel like they’re being called out, they see themselves in the work but appreciate us bringing it to their awareness. There are also the proud comments of women who have already taken steps towards closing The Romance Gap talking about how they asked their husbands to marry them, or how they always split the bill. When I see that our piece of work has such an effect, it reinforces my role as a strategist and makes me proud to create that kind of positive change.