the most popular
sugar relationship site.
Exploratory Research Project
Course Social Web
My Role Mixed Methods Researcher
Our team was interested in exploring further the taboo topic of sugar relationships and its rising success. We specifically studied SeekingArrangement, a platform that fosters the creation of sugar relationships.
In this study, our team defined a sugar relationship as one in which an individual who is usually older, called a sugar daddy or sugar mommy, provides financial and/or material assistance to a partner, referred to as a sugar baby.
According to statistics on SeekingArrangement, there is currently a total of 10 million members on the platform. It is also reported that over 4 million of them are college students.
Through preliminary research, we have found that much of SeekingArrangement’s marketing material is geared towards college students.
Is the rising success of SeekingArrangements due to its target marketing towards college students?
Secondary Research and Literature Review
According to Brittany Cordero, a key uniting aspect motivating both sugar daddies and sugar babies to sign up for SeekingArrangement was the search for something “fun” or “exciting" (Cordero, 2015). This desire or willingness for an “exciting” experience may be more common among college students. On the darker side, a dissertation in the Penn State Law Review by Jacqueline Moty suggests that marketing towards college students may be a form of preying on the mental vulnerability of young adults with the opportunity to make independent decisions for the first time in their lives.
Tanza Loudenback revealed college sugar babies often ask for and receive greater sums of money in comparison to other sugar babies (Loudenback, 2017).
The team also conducted secondary research on SeekingArrangement. Exploring its website and marketing materials, we found a large number of advertisements centered around college students, and even a campaign called Sugar Baby University which allows students to register with a student email address and gain access to a free premium membership.
1. What is the overall awareness of SeekingArrangement?
2. What is the general sentiment students have about sugar relationships?
3. Would college students engage in sugar relationships themselves if they have not done so already?
WHAT WERE THE FINDINGS?
We provided a list of popular sugar relationship websites on the platform. Out of the individuals who recognized at least one platform, the majority (73.3%) of them recognized SeekingArrangement.
We found a lot of variety on the degree of approval our participants had for others engaging in sugar relationships.
Recurring reasons our participants provided that showed they
approved of others engaging
in sugar relationships:
1. it’s “mutually beneficial”
2. “it’s legal and safe”
3. "it's a good way of getting money”
were neutral to others being
engaged in sugar relationships:
1. “it’s none of my business”
2. “people should do what makes them happy"
3. “if everyone’s happy, I don’t see a problem with it"
disapproved of others engaging
in sugar relationships:
1. “it doesn’t seem healthy in the long run”
2. “it’s a weird power dynamic”
3. “it’s non-traditional"
Our results drastically shifted when we asked our participants if they themselves would participate in a sugar relationship. Negative responses were more common. Reasons include “not needing money,” not wanting to “receive judgmental comments from other people,” and that "it’s dangerous.”
Out of our 157 participants, only 8 have been in a sugar relationship. The reasons they provided for participating in a sugar relationship include personal financial needs, tuition support, and seeking a mutually beneficial relationship.
For those who have not participated in a sugar relationship, when asked what factors would motivate them to participate in one, most stated for personal financial needs, tuition support, luxury lifestyle, or that they do not want to be in a traditional relationship. However, common responses for concerns our participants who have not been in a sugar relationship had were safety, freedom, abuse of power, and potential creepiness.
IN SUMMARY, WHAT WERE THE MAIN TAKEAWAYS FROM THE SURVEY?
1. SeekingArrangement is a very well-known site among college students, in comparison to other sugar relationship websites.
2. General sentiment towards sugar relationships, in general, is very diverse, ranging from strongly approve to strongly disapprove. However, when it came to whether or not the participants would engage in a sugar relationship themselves, responses were much more negative.
3. Reasons for engaging in sugar relationships mostly related to financial assistance.
4. There are concerns among college students about engaging in a sugar relationship which includes safety and being in a power relationship.
Can SeekingArrangement marketing materials affect college students' existing perceptions about the topic?
college students who have not been in a sugar relationship
1. Participants given a pre-survey to gauge their existing opinions on sugar relationships
2. During the workshop, they are asked to watch 2 advertising videos by SeekingArrangement
3. Participants then participate in a semi-structured interview regarding the videos
4. ~24 hours after the workshop, they are asked to fill out a post-survey with identical questions from the pre-survey
Interviewing: Workshop Session and Semi-structured interview
1. SeekingArrangement videos received more positive feedback when they sought to normalize the discussion of sugar relationships.
When showed videos that were exaggerated portrayal of sugar relationship (selling the brand and topic), several participants felt that they were “dramatic” and "cheesy" and some even thought they were "degrading" and "pornographic." On the other hand, there were more positive sentiments regarding a street interview video that sought to normalize the discussion of sugar relationships. One participant said, “I didn’t even realize the street interview was an ad; it felt like just a normal video.”
2. Videos received more positive feedback when they break racial stereotypes about sugar relationships.
Participants mentioned that their stereotypical expectations of sugar daddies and sugar babies were “old men” and “white, beautiful young women” respectively, as portrayed by the media. However, the video of the street interviews with sugar babies featured a diversity of ethnicity, body type, and personality, which according to our participants, helped to break conventional stereotypes and normalize sugar relationships.
“The street interview was with people that didn’t meet the typical stereotype of a sugar baby. Hearing these people talk openly and positively about sugar relationships made me think it’s maybe not viewed as negatively as I thought.”
3. Individuals mainly had the same sentiment towards sugar relationships after the workshop.
Most participants were consistent when asked about their own likelihood of participating in sugar relationships before and after viewing SeekingArrangement’s marketing material. One participant changed his likelihood of participating in a sugar relationship from "likely" to "will." Overall, the marketing materials we showed participants did not seem to change most of their perceptions towards sugar relationships. However, lack of quantity of marketing materials due to time constraints, lack of time between the workshop and the post-survey, or consistency bias could have played a factor in this result.
Workshop and Semi-structured Interivews with Sugar Babies
What are college students' views on the marketing materials and what were their experiences like?
college students who currently are or have been in a sugar relationship
1. During the workshop, participants are asked to watch 2 videos by SeekingArrangement, which promote their platform
2. Participants then participate in a semi-structured interview about the videos and their experiences being in a sugar relationship
1. College sugar babies feel strongly that sugar arrangements are not prostitution nor an escort service.
Participants believed that while sugar arrangements are transaction-based and revolve around an exchange of services, it is more like "dating or socializing" and that "it’s important that there is a good fit and both people genuinely like each other." One participant even said that this form of online dating was is like a “one-on-one networking opportunity” or an “exercise on talking to people.” They stressed that not all the relationships are sexual in nature, and not all sugar babies enter relationships for financial gain.
2. SeekingArrangement’s marketing resonated with sugar babies and their experiences.
Participants appreciated that both videos confronted and broke down stereotypes that sugar babies are prostitutes or escorts that are quiet, ashamed, and being taken advantage of. "Before people judge, they need to find the story [from a sugar baby] rather than assume he or she is a slut,” said a participant. “There are 'wholesome' stories out there.”
Competitive Analysis Research
Why is SeekingArrangement much more popular than other sugar relationship sites?
1. Participants were asked to go on 3 different sugar relationship websites (SeekingArrangement, SugarDaddy.com, SugarDaddyForMe) and were asked to become a member of each platform without being told how to do so
2. They were asked to think aloud as they did so (we randomized the order of the websites participants visited)
Overall, our participants responded better towards SeekingArrangement’s website.
SeekingArrangement’s website is "built much better"
Better website "layout presents SeekingArrangement as a legit platform"
SeekingArrangement’s website felt like a "regular dating service" due to its "discrete information on sugar relationships." In comparison to SugarDaddyForMe and SugarDaddy.com, SeekingArrangement had less "overtly sexual or suggestive images."
Though SeekingArrangement’s website left our participants with a better impression, it also received several negative comments like its competitors. For all three of the websites, our participants expressed their distrust with the depiction of sugar relationships. For example, some of the participants said that the images used on the tested websites seemed unrealistic because the men were "young and good-looking," which contradicted their mental model and knowledge of what a sugar daddy would look like.
ONBOARDING PROCESS FINDINGS
1. SeekingArrangement was more comfortable for the participants because it was less overt about its purpose.
“[t]he first one [SeekingArrangement] felt like a regular dating website, like match.com or something.” One of the participants even said that she would feel comfortable of opening up SeekingArrangement and using it in public because of its design.
2. The modern, clean look of the SeekingArrangement website and app fostered a sense of legitimacy and trustworthy.
Most participants preferred using SeekingArrangement over the other two websites because the other two had "bad UI" which made them seem "old and cheap" and reinforced their negative preconceptions of what sugar relationships are.
3. SeekingArrangement has a more accepting onboarding process than its competitors and shows the diversity of potential arrangements.
SeekingArrangement showed our participants various options during their sign up process that demonstrated how a sugar relationship is present in various forms for different purposes. For instance, one of our participants said “I like how they had that option [Platonic], because it shows that that is an option. Like, I have a chance to find platonic relationship here.”
Traditional relationships are becoming less and less common as time passes, and an example is the sugar relationship. From preliminary research, it was evident that SeekingArrangement was extremely well-known. But what contributed to its success? Were SeekingArrangement's marketing efforts towards college students a contributing factor to its rising success?
Both yes and no.
Our team found that some marketing materials resonated very well with college students: materials that normalized the discussion of the relationships or portrayed diversity. However, some ads were received very negatively and were described as "cheesy," "degrading," or even "pornographic." We also found that these ads were not successful in changing participant's perceptions towards sugar relationships positively.
We also discovered that SeekingArrangement's marketing materials weren't the only contributing factors to its success. For example, through think-aloud studies, we found that its overall website aesthetic, UI, and onboarding process were better received than other competitors.
Future actions would include interviewing and interacting with a more representative college student population in the United States, as our team had access to a limited demographic of college students.
Impact and Application
It is still unclear to our team if SeekingArrangement’s popularity is because of business strategies such as advertisements or external factors, such as the rising acceptance of non-traditional relationships (or if it’s a mix of both). However, this project has the potential to impact many other businesses--especially businesses that are trying to break social norms. Though nontraditional relationships, such as sugar relationships, were extremely taboo when SeekingArrangement was created, the company has grown exponentially and the concept of sugar relationships has been more widely accepted compared to a decade ago. With further research, insights that we find can be applied to other businesses, even Airbnb or Uber. When Airbnb was created, it was unheard of that people would want to sleep in another person's home. That’s just not the social norm. However, throughout the years, the business has been widely accepted and now many users don’t think twice when booking an Airbnb. We believe that this project has the potential to increase its scale and be applied to many other businesses.
1. It's important to get a more diverse range of participants. Because most of the students we worked with were CMU students, it would be much more representative to interview and analyze students from different universities across the nation or even globally.
2. It's not easy for participants to talk about sensitive and controversial topics, and our team can improve our research design to be more cognizant of this. Though nontraditional relationships have been gaining popularity, sugar relationships are still a taboo topic. Individuals who volunteered to interview with our team are most likely participants who naturally feel more comfortable discussing the topic of sugar relationships. Keeping this in mind, our team could possibly interview participants anonymously through a chat platform in order to increase the comfortability of our participants as well as gain more diverse and honest insights.
Cordero, B. S. (2015). Sugar Culture and SeekingArrangement.com Participants: What it Means to Negotiate Power and Agency in Sugar Dating(Doctoral dissertation, California State University, Scaramento) [Abstract]. Retrieved April 30, 2019, from http://csus-dspace.calstate.edu/bitstream/handle/10211.3/159309/B.CorderoThesis2015Fall.pdf;sequence=1
Loudenback, T. (2017, March 3). I'm a 'sugar daddy' who has been dating the same 'sugar baby' for 3 years — here's what everyone gets wrong about our relationship. Business Insider. Retrieved April 30, 2019, from https://www.businessinsider.com/sugar-daddy-dates-sugar-babies-seeking-arrangement-2017-11
Motyl, J. (2013). Trading Sex for College Tuition: How Sugar Dady "Dating" Sites May Be Sugar Coating Prostitution. Penn State Law Review,117(3), 927-957. Retrieved April 30, 2019, from http://www.pennstatelawreview.org/117/3/Motyl final.pdf