The upside of the OkCupid tests and what brands can learn from it.

Recently, OkCupid published a blog post admitting to experimenting on their users. Most of the controversy surrounding the viral post was that they knowingly mismatched people to see if they’d interact positively with each other. 

They did. 

Amidst the rally-cry around the ethics of these experiments, rather than going with the Fatal Attraction stance, we think there might be an upside here. 

At least they didn’t bum people out.

In 2013, Christopher J. Carpenter of Western Illinois University and Erin L. Spottswood of Cornell University published a paper on, “Exploring romantic relationships on social networking sites using the self expansion model.”

The focus of their study explored, “how the self changes as a result of romantic relationship development.” Simply put, they were looking for digital evidence on the expansion of self both during and after a relationship.

They found out some really interesting stuff.

First of all, the self does expand and it’s totally evidenced on Facebook. Think of a single dude who hooks up with a girl and then all of sudden their profile pictures change to include both of them in it. Then people start posting pictures of them together. Maybe dude starts “liking” the pages of her favorite bands, etc. 

But what happens when the relationship tanks?

“They found that people tend to feel as though a part of themselves had been lost after relationship termination.” 

Thanks, OKCupid.

Although this is where the ethics crowd has room to get riled up, we promised an upside. The study found that for a lot of people, each individual carried on that expansion of self.

So if dude was really into Nickelback, you might find that girl at a Nickelback concert three months after they broke up. Or, let’s say she was really into running and he wasn’t. He might be an amateur marathon runner now.

It’s not exactly Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind when people break up and even in that movie there was stuff that lingered deep down in both of those characters.

So what’s in it for brands?

“In addition to a more expanded sense of self, having been in romantic relationships with a wider variety of people may also increase the size of one’s social network.” 

The same could be said for brands that dare to explore outside of their targeted audience niche. It could be risky, but at the very least everyone could depart having learned something new.

It’s like having an engaging conversation with a complete stranger in the grocery checkout line. You never know what that could lead to.

Rather than focusing on a certain outcome, brands could be creating experiences and facilitating engagement for an ROI that goes beyond the end goal of basic conversion.


From a brand perspective, this kind of experimentation mentality could lend itself to a wider audience reach while simultaneously expanding the sense of self in others whenever they interact with each other.

It’s about the most personal being the most universal.