Commercial Break: Life is Short, Air Controversial Commercials
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 27, 2008
Isn’t it time?
I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog writing about commerials that have blown my mind. Talking British cheetahs plotting revenge schemes, precocious kids asking Daddy to bring home a new mommy for Christmas, supermodels dancing with overhydrated lizards…we’ve just about seen it all these last 12 months, haven’t we? But in the great majority of these instances, it’s the ad campaign–whether it be controversial, enigmatic, or just somewhat against the grain–that’s doing the brain-melting. In the case of AshleyMadison.com’s little-seen televisual advertising, though, it’s the product being advertized itseelf that I can’t quite get my head wrapped around.
A man wakes up next to a neary-empty bottle of indeterminate liquor, with the arm of a rather heavyset and loudly snoring woman draped around him. Hungover, and recoiling in horror and disgust over the implications of this alcohol-soaked affair, he slinks out from under the woman’s arm, collects his clothes, and attempts to scurry out into the night without having to further face his regretful conquest. But as he’s creeping down the stairs, he sees a photograph on the wall which gives him a great deal of pause–a picture of him and the fat woman together, in what appears to be a wedding photo. The man sighs. “”Most of us can recover from a one-night stand with the wrong woman,” the voiceover intones. “But not when it’s every night for the rest of our lives!” A picture of the web address appears, with the O in “Madison” being represented by a toppling wedding ring. “Isn’t it time for AshleyMadison.com?”
Wait…what? All through the ad, I kept expecting an obvious, familiar product to be introduced as the key to the commercial–a deoderant, an insurance policy, a steak burrito, something–but instead we have this website I’ve never heard of, and which doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. What could this website being advertized possibly be used for? I mean, if I didn’t know better, I’d say that it was probably promoting a website that functioned as some kind of dating service for married people. But there’s no way they could advertize for that on TV, right? I mean, such a dating service might not be illegal, necessarily, but it’s certainly on the shady side of moral ambiguity. Even if one existed, it’d have to be spread around through word of mouth and maybe a couple magazine exposes. You couldn’t possibly advertise for it on basic cable, could you?
Well, guess what–AshleyMadison.com certainly isn’t selling morning-after pills. It is, indeed, exactly what I had suspected–a dating service for married people to hook up with each other in a judgemenet, deception and consequence-free environmment. It’s run by Noel Biderman, a sort of anti-Neil Clark Warren who is, ironically, married and (supposedly) faithful himself. The site does not pussyfoot around its intended purpose, but it offers the following justification for its apparent infidelity facilitating:
People don’t stray because it is easy or convenient. Most stray because they are missing something in their relationship and feel they need or deserve more than their primary partner offers. Providing a service like ours does not make someone more likely to stray any more than increasing the availability of glassware contributes to alcoholism. No report contradicts this finding. On the other hand, putting up barriers and making it difficult to stray has never discouraged infidelity; if anything, it simply makes people want to even more.
So basically, AshleyMadison.com takes a stance akin to a parental unit allowing their kids to drink with their friends in their house, so that the parents at least know that they’re doing it in a safe, controlled environment. Of course, Mom and Dad usually aren’t charging Junior and his buds $5 a drink for the privilege, like AM does with contacting other members.
But even if the ethics are completely sound–and I don’t pretend to carry any particular wisdom on that subject one way or the other, though I doubt I’d be thrilled if my parents were cool with it–it still seems a little illicit to be pimped on TV before the midnight hour, doesn’t it? Well, apparently there was a reason why no one I ever talked to about it had heard of the commercial before–eventually, the powers that be seemed to realize the anomolous nature of the plug (which was only on ESPN to begin with), and pulled it from any sort of circulation. Turns out, the ad was a compromise to begin with from the far racier ad they initially planned to air, but it appears that advertizing for adultery will never be subtle enough to fly completely under the radar.
Are these ads, as Biderman suggests, not actually all that out of place when compared to the Viagra and Vegas comercials it would air adjacent to on ESPN? Possibly. But when you start with the explicit commandment-breaking promotion, you have to expect that you’re going to be blowing the minds of people a lot touchier than me.