Tinder created an interactive show. Gen Z loves it

Would you save a person or a puppy during an apocalypse?

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Kerry Flynn
, CNN Business
CNN — Would you save a person or a puppy during an apocalypse?

To some, that's an obvious choice. To Tinder users, it's a great conversation starter — one that's been debated on the dating app, on Twitter and in-person on college campuses ever since they were forced to choose while watching "Swipe Night" earlier this month.

"Swipe Night" is Tinder's first foray in original content. This month, the dating app, which is owned by Match Group, released a four-part, short-form video series with a few twists.

First, new episodes were released every Sunday in October, but were available only for six hours, from 6 p.m. to midnight local time, exclusively on the Tinder app in the US. Second, the episodes were interactive. Users were asked to swipe left or swipe right — Tinder's innovation to online dating — to make a choice, which then affects the rest of the story. Third, those decisions then determined who they matched with on Tinder in the future.

The purpose of "Swipe Night" was to create a discussion among Tinder users. And it worked. Total matches on Tinder jumped 26% compared to a typical Sunday night, and messages increased 12%, a Tinder spokesperson told CNN Business. Given the engagement it received in the US release, Tinder is planning an international rollout of the series in February 2020.

"The world has become this world of visual content for better or for worse," Tinder CEO Elie Seidman told CNN Business. "We're on our phones a lot, consuming things on Instagram, YouTube, streaming that's available 24/7. Content has become this language of our shared experience, and it's a natural thing to bond over."

The first episode of "Swipe Night" sets the series' apocalyptic plot: a comet is set to destroy Earth in three hours. It's all shot in the first-person, as if what you're seeing during the apocalypse is on the screen of your smartphone. But the screen also functions as a smartphone, where you receive text messages from fictional friends and news alerts about the apocalypse. The decisions, like person or puppy, are what spark conversations.

"I loved the idea of getting in the car or stealing the car. It shows a little bit of your character. Oh, I am this person," said Amanda Brunak, a senior at the University of Southern California who also serves as a student brand marketing manager for Tinder.

Maggie Pan, a junior at the University of California Los Angeles, said "Swipe Night" has been a topic of conversation on her campus and has inspired some students to download Tinder. As a student brand marketing manager for Tinder, she coordinated a marketing event for the series on her campus.

"I had friends who didn't have Tinder, or have Tinder on and off, so they re-downloaded to see what ["Swipe Night"] was about," Pan said. "I had some friends who were in relationships already but wanted to download Tinder to see the experience of what it was about."

To create "Swipe Night," Tinder enlisted the help of the ad agency 72andSunny. But the agency's executive creative director and partner Matt Murphy was quick to note the video series "isn't a marketing campaign."

"It's not about creating ads. It's how do we create an experience that brings spontaneity to life and leads to reward," Murphy told CNN Business.

72andSunny worked with Tinder's Z Team, employees focused on Gen Z experiences like its college version "Tinder U." Murphy said one early decision, made in an effort to be "authentic" to Gen Z users, was to hire a director in that demographic, specifically 23-year-old Karena Evans, who directed several music videos for Drake.

Seidman, the CEO, declined to share how much the project cost was but emphasized the investment in quality. "We [were] not going to put out a not great storyline, or cast or director," he said.

Seidman said Tinder's team plans to invest more in original content like this. When "Swipe Night" becomes available in other countries in 2020, the team plans to make some changes based on feedback. Future series also could be direct money-makers for the app.

"I think there will be opportunities in the future to have aligned partners, but it wasn't something we wanted to do for the first one because we wanted to have full directional control," Seidman said.

Of course, Tinder has competition when it comes to mobile video. There are apps that are all about user-generated videos, such as Instagram and TikTok. Then there are the studio-made series on Snapchat and the soon-to-be Quibi. Google's YouTube has both.

To USC senior Brunak, her time goes to whatever app offers the best experience.

"I've never heard of an app doing something like ["Swipe Night"] before," Brunak said "I was thrilled because my generation really values experiences. Something like this makes [Tinder] feel more engaged."

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