Married and seeking an affair? I first heard of this on Tyra. I was surprised to find out that CNN, Good Morning America, Ellen, The View and of course Larry King Live have all featured this topic on their shows. Sounds disturbing but supposedly 10 million people are doing just that. Ashley Madison is a dating service targeting specifically married people. This “married dating service for discreet encounters” offers several membership packages, the most expensive package of course “guarantees an affair.” In other words its a faithful spouses worst nightmare. The site launched in 2001 and has been causing controversy ever since. Recently the company released a new ad that offers several disturbing messages. The ad depicts an image of a plus size woman posing in lingerie. Above her is the caption “Did your wife scare you last night?” Yes, they really said that. Some sexist and insensitive marketing executives must have thought that hadn’t caused enough damage because shortly after another equally offensive ad, with the exact same model was released.
It’s clear what they’re trying to say. I guess they found this to be humorous and perhaps relate-able to the men they market to. Either way they should have known it would cause outrage amongst women and anyone with an ounce of compassion. While the ad promotes infidelity (as to be expected) it clearly mocks a very serious issue, body shaming. Jacqueline, the plus size model featured in the ad takes to the internet to express her disgust in this article titled “I’m The ‘Scary’ Model In The Awful Ashley Madison Ad.” Although, it is very clear that this photo was taken voluntarily. She states that the photo was shot by a friend before her career began. The company allegedly used the photos without her consent. She states in her article:
“I had no idea that the photographer would endeavor to sell the photos to corporations and/or stock photo companies, who would then go on, repeatedly, to use them in rude and mocking ways.”
Since their launch the company has given us a vivid perspective on what they think of marriage and women. If it were not clear already. Through provocative commercials and advertisements to back their position, it’s clear that their marketing team isn’t biting their tongues for anyone. Aside from the whole infidelity issue, their approach is direct and in-your-face. It may even serve as adequate validation in the eyes of their biggest niche market , the cheater. Nonetheless the ad is offensive and wildly inappropriate in the context it was used. For such a big oops you would think that maybe an apology would be issued to Jacqueline. I often like to think that CEO’s and the people higher up have just a lick of common sense.
Once the ads went viral in several publications. The CEO , Noel Biderman offered some words of encouragement, or maybe not, to the angry model.
“The best thing that could’ve happened to this woman is that we used her in our ad. Despite what she may want you to think, she is reaping the press for her own pornography website. She took these pictures and signed the release knowing that they were” not just for ‘personal use.’ However, if she can get great publicity from this, all the power to her.”
According to Chapter 6 of our textbook, more specifically “the four essential steps of effective public relations,” Ashley Madison did a lot of things right. They clearly researched their target audience, married people and found ways to appeal directly to them. Below you will find a video of an Ashley Madison Ad, that was banned from the 2011 Super Bowl. The first is the actual commercial. The second video features CEO Noel Biderman , and he states that
“There’s a notion out there that we’re inventing infidelity but really its been around a lot longer than our business has. So were out there creating commercials like this, placing them on high end media and we’re attracting tons of audiences to it and that’s why we keep going through these hoops”
Now for those of us that aren’t interested in cheating we find it quite offensive. Though from a public relations point of view these type of ads are yes shocking but certainly get the message across. Our book talks about defining audiences and segmenting public’s. The company understands that this isn’t for everyone so they’re able to make these connections and try to win people over. Are they right for it? Maybe not. Will someone buy into that ad? Yes they will. Some campaigns may be offensive like this one but for this specific lifestyle their are certain points of view that are tolerated. They’ve used their research wisely and concocted a message that appeals specifically to their main audience.
What do you think? Can Jacqueline benefit from being the punch line of a bad joke? Is it in her best interest to take advantage of being exploited? Aside from being controversial do you think their approach is effective?