Marketing Ménage â Trois

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Matt Lester. 

Marketing101 InfidelityA depressed, single guy in search of something to upend the numbing dullness of his daily grind has his cute-girl-radar light up on a bus. A bored couple seeking a cure for their bedroom banality stumbles into a threesome at a party. After showing her indifference to her mate, a wife turns to a quickie fix on a business trip.

If these were the first few episodes of a hot cable TV series, it might have made some sense to me. But, since they are the new campaign for the dating (cheating) site Ashley Madison, I’m left perplexed.

Whether or not I think the site itself is morally bankrupt, I’m going to look at this purely through a marketing and advertising lens. This campaign is, in a word, confusing. Also, depressing. And not simply because it’s selling infidelity. It’s because everyone in the series comes across as smarmy, self-conscious and either guilty, complacent or simply without merit as a human being. OK, maybe it is because they’re selling infidelity.

Production values and performances aside, I have a serious strategic problem with these spots. They make me wonder, If I’m an adulterer that can easily bag a cute girl on a bus with just a creepy glance, stumble into group sex at any random house party, or meet another fantasy, one-night-stand on any given business trip, why do I need this site? Maybe it can be fixed by adding a V.O. at the end that says, “Since you’re not that guy (or girl), register with Ashley Madison to finally bring all your cheating fantasies to fruition”.

About a year ago, crisis had found the brand like a tenacious private dick overpaid by a divorce lawyer in a shiny suit. A hacking group outed a large part of their clientele by posting a database of all their site users. Not a good thing for a brand so reliant on anonymity and discretion. Now add the discovery that the lonely guys talking affairs on the site’s chat lines were actually being counter-flattered by fembots. A cheater being accepted, and not judged by another cheater, has a modicum of solace. Not being judged by a robot is the equivalent of not being judged by a tuba.

According to Fast Company, the new CEO, Rob Segal, who is responsible for these new ads, says they are meant to celebrate “excited moments that exist outside of monogamy and everyday monotony… that moment when you first see someone that excites you.” Rob goes on to say that they are “tasteful” and “respectful” and “a little more elegant.” Perhaps a little more elegant than their old campaign, “Life’s Short. Have an Affair.” That was flat-footed, to be sure, but it didn’t shy away from the brand purpose – the ick-factor that separated them from other dating sites. This new campaign seems to be so taciturn about their differentiator – to the point that there is no differentiator at all.

This brand celebrates promiscuity, encourages us to bend, even ignore the traditional bonds and rules of matrimony, not to mention, the heart. Shouldn’t they be the ones to just go for it, celebrate openness, sexual adventurousness, worldliness. That it’s, OK. That, yes, life is short, so indulge yourself.

Now tell that to your spouse when you get busted.

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