Ashley Madison Ad Promotes Female Body Shaming

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.

WRONG !

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?

Sheheriana Love

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27 thoughts on “Ashley Madison Ad Promotes Female Body Shaming

  1. I see how it could look bad on Ashley Madison’s part because the way they are introducing this market to the public is a bit forward and abrupt. Even though that ere is a market for the services they provide, nevertheless, infidelity is not a person’s strong suit to be open about. It’s truly a shame that there are some individuals that interested in this line of business, but more and more as society grows by the minute there’s always a are new prospective or business prospect that are taken into consideration on a daily basis. I don’t know about their CEO, but if I were him I would not want to be living the American dream based on some married person’s filthy indiscretions; its bad for business all the way around and eventually will cause some chaos for Ashley Madison as a whole.
    As far as the woman goes, I feel no remorse for her. She knew what she was getting into when the venture took place just by taking the photos. She wants to know “feel embarrassed” because the public’s eye is in her line of vision and is looking for sympathy. I can’t feel sorry for her especially when she is the cause for her own demise; here she is prospering from these photos she took with her own website promoting plus-size pornography. It’s really funny how people cry about the cards they were dealt in life when they themselves had a hand in it all.

  2. I honestly don’t know what to think, but I will say that this is a really good topic Sheheriana!

    With that said, I do think that this woman can indeed benefit from being the punchline of a bad joke, for many reasons: First of all, this lets people know who she is (giving her fifteen minutes of fame), this will bring added traffic to her website (be it for curiousity or for interest), and can keep her in articles. As a matter of fact, isn’t how all these “reality” stars get/stay in the spotlight?

    Because of my feelings, however, it’s hard NOT to feel sympathetic for her. In my own personal opinon, I don’t even care if she actually did sell her pictures off to this website. What they did with it was horrible, to be honest. This was clearly body-shaming, and in her article about the backstory from her viewpoint, I really could chalk up this whole situation to naive thinking on her part and an honest mistake that she is now paying for. If she is getting any benefits of it, then that’s great for her. Regardless, this website is trying to humiliate and demean curvy and voluptuous women. I’m not the desirable measurements myself, and body image has been a small issue for me. Luckily, I have a very loving, supportive partner by my side who does his best to encourage me and show me he loves me just as I am. Sadly, this is not the case for everyone. And there are so many reasons why people gain weight, keep their weight on, or are “big” in the first place- not all of them have to be because of the fact that they overeat or something like that.

    Nevertheless, as conterversial as this website and these ads were, this company demonstrated successful PR tactics and strategies. They researched and found a niche audience, probably looked to see the competition and what they were offering, and tried to appeal to their audience. Obviously, their tactics have worked since their services are being used, and you have showed some great examples of that. The bottom line is, we can say whatever we want to personally, but when it comes to remaining objective and looking at it from a professional standpoint, judging them for their successes, we have to put our personal opinion aside and give them credit for a professional job well done and meeting the company quo.
    -Jaleesa

    • We share a lot of the same opinions on this issue. I do agree this could very well be her 15 minutes of fame. It’s just a shame that companies get away with this kind of thing. All personal opinion aside they’re doing what works for them and I can’t deny that it’s effective. Tasteless, inconsiderate, insensitive, disturbing, sexist as well but definitely effective to their target audience. I don’t know whats worse that they profit off of these kinds of messages or they theirs actually people making that possible.

  3. Um…wow. I think that what they are encouraging is disgusting. However, I think that their strategies are effective. They have done their research, they understand what that particular audience wants and they are willing to go for it. They also have made their messages really clear and aren’t directing towards one sex, they are leaving it open for both and making it a point to do so. From that stand point, that is great. However, I really want to put it out there that I am totally against what they are doing, they just happen to be doing it well.

    Dayna

    • I agree that this is disgusting in many way. I guess my issue is in the world of marketing and PR where do we draw the line. Is the game “if it sells it’s okay?” These kinds of ads do more damage than good , especially for anyone other than the company. I just hate that they’ve taken just a low blow for profit.

      • But to some there is no line. They are a specific audience, and some people find it acceptable to cheat. I personally believe it does more damage than good, but that’s a personal opinion and I would not involve myself, or it sounds like yourself in such business. I agree, this I feel is a bit of a “low blow” as you put it because only one person in the marriage is apparently open to this sort of arrangement. Perhaps if it were couple with an open marriage and that was what they believed in, then I can see how it wouldn’t be a “low blow” and instead making a profit off of something that isn’t so devious.

  4. Hmmmmm. It makes me wonder who is telling the truth here. Did Jacqueline sign for these photos and not expect them to be used in such a derogatory way?

    Either way, it is not right and that photo should have never been used without her consent. Even if she did give consent for her photo to be used, the ways they are portraying her is just sad and poking fun at wives, and they’re making many women feel bad about themselves.

    I understand what they are trying to do, and they are clearly targeting a specific audience. Maybe they should make one for women. Take a photo of a guy with a beer in his hand; sweat pants, and watching TV. Sorry guys, that’s not attractive, yet I’m sure many wives would see the humor in that! Let’s make it fair now.

    • I think we all share very similar opinions. Even if she wasn’t telling the truth entirely her photo was used in a very cruel way. She didn’t deserve that all. Now an ad with a more desirable man vs an undesirable would be promoting the same thing perhaps. Plus I highly doubt men would even care if something like that were put out to the public like these ads. There’s such a double standard here. Its like as a company they don’t care too much about ethic, if at all.

  5. This whole issue disgusts me, especially as a feminist. A lot of people tend to equate the word “feminist” with “man-hater”, but true feminists could not be described this way. The fact that first of all, this ad is encouraging infidelity, and second of all, basically saying that plus-size women are “scary”- I’m beyond words. It’s sickening that a company would be so blatant in trying to make women feel bad about themselves for their bodies. However, the only link I could see is that perhaps they think (and understandably so) that men and women who cheat on spouses are more likely to be shallow? Men and women that are not the ideal Western body standard can and are great husbands and wives that have a lot to offer – whether that be stability, compassion, interest, humor, fun, or any other part of a great relationship. Hopefully, there haven’t been many women that have seen this ad and felt bad about themselves, but that’s probably not the case. My heart goes out to any woman who is ridiculed by the media for not being the body “ideal” that America loves to perpetuate. There are several men and women who are attracted to body types similar to that of the woman in the ad, and this is superbly offensive. I’m not trying to rant, but this truly bothers me. I wish that something other than a woman’s looks was important in establishing her value. But, as I said, this is an ad for an INFIDELITY website- that’s not moral or nice, either. I feel really bad for Jackie, and I loved her statement. She is a very strong woman and I hope more people think like her. She may get “publicity” and web site hits, but I don’t know if that’s more important to her than NOT being associated with this terrible web site.

    -Silvana

    • Rant away Silvana ! Its definitely appropriate for this topic. I knew when posting it that , like the ad itself it would raise controversy. I understand that its difficult to even look past the message they’re trying to send out. I’m not quite a feminist but I definitely share the degree of disgust you have for the company as a whole. My first thoughts when I saw this ad in the Huffington post were Seriously???!! and WHY?!?! There’s no way to deny that as a company and PR/Marketing (whoever else is involved) they’re lacking any kind of ethical guidance. Though I have to admit, if they’re really bringing in that many members to their site then something about this insensitive approach is working for them and then should be recognized as I guess somewhat a successful tactic.

  6. This is beyond horrible, being a man things like this is the reason we’re looked at as the cheaters or the sexist people in the world. Looking past the fact were treating women like animals in this campaign, the fact that their breaking everything marrage stands for is what disturbs me, if you want to date still then why even get married to begin with. and if you want to still get that little bit of lust out of your life and don’t wanna hurt what you love……(Dont do it over the internet) the second thing I find wrong is the way they treated the model, I feel they didn’t take into consideration of how she would take things, it disturbs me of how wrong a company could do someone just for the profit of their company and this is a prime example

    -Antonio

    • I’m guessing if you were offered a job for this company you would decline but probably not in such a polite way. I’m glad to hear this from a male perspective. I was waiting to hear from some of the male students ! Especially because this company targets the male demographic in a good majority of their ads. You make all good points and I agree. Thanks for your input.

  7. It would be much easier to just divorce why cheat. what was the point of saying vows if you are going to just later in the marriage. i not a fan of divorce but i surely not a fan of cheating. but why the way “americans” about marriage why would some create this type of dating scene for married people. if you are not happy in your marriage and you have tried every thing and i mean everything to make it work well divorce. at least if you are divorce you are the life you want with out hurt anyone knowingly and willingly. morally i this would be a job as a pr i would pass up.

    Dee

    • Noel Biderman definitely has some issues when it comes to his business ventures. I wonder if he feels his heart getting colder. The whole notion of exploiting our weakness for profit is never the route to take. Its a shame that we as Americans can be persuaded into these markets. Useless and immoral as they can be there are people out there buying into this whole “married and seeking” trend. It doesn’t even give the company a good image at all. Too many people are supportive of something so blatantly destructive.

  8. I personally can’t disagree with what any of you have said. Right or wrong they have an effective IMC campaign. They incorporate all elements of advertising, marketing and PR. They have a niche audience and they know just how to get to them. The outreach is effective and as Sheheriana said they embody the four effective steps of PR. Gina

    • I hope everyone was paying attention to the movie we watched today. It definitely brings into perspective how shady PR can get at times. Something may seem to be working but can be harmful in the long run. I guess we’ll see Thursday if being unethical (though not advised) can work in your favor like it does for this company.

  9. I suddenly feel very old and crotchety. Throughout your post, I was pretty much going “No. No, no no. No, stop that. What. NO.” in my head. I can’t even…

    Sure. Sure, maybe the targeting is good. I guess. If this is a thing one would want to make a business out of. Maybe I’m just too high-horsed and moral to keep it in a PR perspective. I guess it’s effective if their bottom line says so? Woop-di-do. How nice of them to have nice PR and bank on something like this.

    Great find, great post. Appreciate all the links and sources.

    –Laura

    • Thanks Laura ! I was saying the same things when I first saw this. I couldn’t even fathom seeing this in a magazine or on a billboard. Could you imagine ?! I knew it would make everyone feel some kind of way , outraged or not. Either way I wanted to be fair and actually acknowledge what is undeniably a horrible attempt at PR, that actually works. Its sad I know. Glad you enjoyed the links though!

  10. As soon as I started reading this post I was angry at that company. How morally incorrect is it to make money off of extramarital affairs? And then to market it in this way is sickening. I guess it could work for their target audience so they are good at that. But the rest of us who have to see it and don’t agree with this type of thing have to suffer.

    I’m sure the woman in the ads had some idea that her photos could be used in a number of ways, because she had to sign for it. I think the same photo was on the billboard for a radio station at one point too.

  11. Disclosure: I think there is no excuse for extra-marital activities. It’s inexcusable and pathetic.

    I cannot help but play devil’s advocate, so hear me out.

    Whether it is on the surface or not, infidelity exists. Just like all of the dating sites out there, here is one that is specifically aimed at married individuals who want to get out, get back, or get off. It’s despicable, but its real, and someone found a way to:

    A. capitalize financially in the field
    B. form a discrete encounter
    C. help out people who may be in situations WORSE than “I’m bored in my marriage”

    You don’t have to give Noel Biderman credit, because it’s a touchy subject. As far as the promotions subjecting poor Jacqueline, it’s terrible. But what are these advertisements, commercials, and promotions doing?

    Getting our attention? Yes.

    Are we talking about them? Yes.

    Are they getting results? Sadly, yes.

    So as far as the company is concerned, they’re getting the job done, and it IS working. As for ethics and morality, they may play the “this is for people who are miserable, incompatible, or just need a way out” card, but their “Did your wife SCARE you last night?” promotions clearly indicate that they don’t care, as long as you use Ashley Madison to cheat. It’s awful, but it doesn’t change that it’s still there.

    -Dan W.

  12. Wow! What is the world coming to?! Seems like when it comes to money, respect and empathy gets thrown out of the window. Don’t they realize they are encouraging an act known as a “sin”? I hate to include religion because everyone is not a believer, but as a Christian it is a sin to sleep around while married. Although we live in America and people have affairs on a daily basis, I think it is wrong to exploit it in the public eye. If anything, marketing executives could have created a site that give tips and advice on how wives can enhance the excitement of marriage. What activities can wives and husbands do together? Methods to improve sex life? etc. This idea promotes infidelity and in my opinion increases it.
    In the perspective of the executives and the big bucks, I guess this is a smart idea. Sad, but smart. They are reaching certain audiences that they KNOW will buy into it. Using Jackie as the scary wife is the stereotype for all women married that are not easy on the eyes, compared to a model in shape posing in her underwear. If I were married I would definitely be offended by this. Honestly, its wrong in my opinion, but obviously successful so who am I to argue with it?!

  13. I don’t think this girl is a victim here. If she voluntarily accepted the offer and got paid for it, then the company can use her picture anyway it chooses to. Her photo was taken by a company that solicit for escort services; I am sure this women did not expect her photo to be used to promote a religious campaign. She knew very well what was the company about and she knew very well that the photo will be used as a mock up. She went there and had her photo taken with an outfit that they provided for her, which I am sure it was custom-made to her size; so I am not sure if I consider her a victim here.

    The whole ad is bad because it promotes cheating; mocking up a big size girl in the ad is irrelevant. It is bad because it’s immoral to promote cheating but not because they are making fun of this girl specifically.

  14. This article is a perfect example of great P-R , Unethical-But Great P-R nonetheless. The thing is… if this wasn’t affective, me and you wouldn’t know much about it now would we? Sharihanna you stated that popular news anchors such as Larry King, Ellen, The View pitched this story. This is like a “viral you tube video”, even though its annoying we won’t stop listening and watching. While the camera’s are rolling and married women are shaking their heads shamefully, their counter parts are actually second guessing their values in relation to the advertisements. That same program that the CEO has running , has been going on for years. Its just that the provocative girls didn’t come out and say I’m breaking up you’re marriage. I think theres a way they could’ve done the same thing, and spared damaging women across the world “self body image”

  15. First off let me say that I do not agree at ALL with the mission of the Ashley Madison services. I believe that once someone has taken the vow of marriage to a man or woman, it should be honored. However I feel that Ashley Madison was going for the shock value. I remember when Gina had us research different websites to explore their tactics and language. Some indefinitely used fear and shock. This is a PR tactic that works and has been profitable for this business. You stated that Ashley Madison has been in business since 2001 and is still functioning today. Furthermore this is a business that was financially able and stable enough to purchase 2011 Superbowl Ad! The argument that this is inventing infidelity is insulting to me. Infidelity has been going on since the beginning of time. I don’t think that this service destroys marriage but helps it down the road to destruction. In my view if a married person is checking out this website and is willing to PAY for an affair then their marriage is already destroyed or well on it’s way. I think Jacky has benefited from this ad and was willing to be exploited. She has a blog but once that ad came out, she entitled the blog “the girl from the Ashley Madison advertisement”. People read on it because of that ad. Ashley Madison’s approach is indeed effective and a bit genius. It’s still crazy to me that people are really willing to pay for affair. To each it’s own.

    -Orlando

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