Ashley Madison pitches relaunch under new management, new strategy

More than a year after a massive data breach and allegations that the service was riddled with fake profiles, adulterous dating website Ashley Madison is set to relaunch next week with a new marketing campaign that moves away from the company's salacious past.

Adulterous website gets set to relaunch next week with decidedly tamer image

A lingering glance between strangers on the subway is exactly the sort of tame, yet flirtatious, excitement that website Ashley Madison is pitching in a new series of TV ads set to air next week. (ruby)

More than a year after a massive data breach and allegations that the service was riddled with fake profiles, dating website Ashley Madison is set to relaunch next week with a new marketing campaign that moves away from the company's salacious past and toward a more mainstream future.

The Toronto-based company was rocked last summer by hackers who accessed the company's servers and obtained email addresses, transaction histories and correspondence archives for millions of users. But that was just the beginning of the company's problems, as allegations of fraudulent accounts and FTC investigations followed.

Then-CEO Noel Biderman ultimately resigned from the company as the scandal widened. Regulatory filings suggest the company lost as much of a quarter of its revenue due to the scandal, but the parent company's new owners insist all that is behind them.

Newly appointed CEO Rob Segal and new president James Millership came aboard in April to steer the company only after being confident that a re-jigged business model had a future.

Among the changes is one to the name. Formerly owned by Avid Life Media Inc., along with other dating websites such as Cougar Life and Established Men, Ashley Madison's parent company is now simply known as "Ruby."

"We like that Ruby has a sensual, feminine quality, connotes value and fits with the fresh start our company is undergoing," Millership said.

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"It's a new day at Ruby and renaming ... is an important step in our journey to completely rebuild the company as a relevant, digital dating innovator that truly cares for our customers," Segal added.

New ads much more tame

Key to that goal is a new branding effort, one that seeks to distance the company from its former and bluntly unapologetic tagline: "Life is short. Have an affair."

Segal says internal research shows almost half the service's members are single, and the half that are attached aren't necessarily looking to cheat in the real world.

So that called for a marketing switch. "People visit Ashley Madison to find sparks, butterflies and new experiences," he says. "Ashley Madison welcomes open-minded and adventurous people from every walk of life."

Accordingly, the company is set to launch a series of TV ads next week focusing on the toned-down tagline of "Find Your Moment. "We hope our new advertising campaign connects with people and reflects what they are looking for when they join the Ashley Madison community," Segal said.

At least one marketing expert thinks the campaign has a shot at working. "I can see the strategy and the logic in how they've crafted the spots," said Greg Monaco, founding partner of brand consultancy Monaco Lange.

"It's such a drastic contrast to what they had been doing before," he said. "It's not as overt and to be honest — I'm not even sure what their services are now."

Indeed, the ads — which simply allude to a wide variety of experiences, all loosely tied to the notion of innate human desires to connect and be content — leave a lot to the imagination.

The flavour may be a little more vanilla, but deep down the company is still selling sex — or at least the prospect of it.

But the toned down ads are part and parcel of the image the company is trying to project, and part of the management strategy to move on from the breach.

The company faced criticisms, for example, as to how many actual women were on the previous site. But the new owners insist past use of automated "bots" posing as women, and other technical trickery to boost the appearance of female subscribers, is over.

"My understanding is that bots are widespread in the industry, but they are no longer being used, and will not be used," Millership said, adding the last bot was take offline late last year.

The bottom line is, the company is eager to put it all behind them.

"The company is truly sorry for how people's lives and relationships may have been affected by the criminal theft of personal information," Segal said. "That's why we're charting a new course and making some big changes."

Monaco says it just might work, as long as one thing happens: "They're banking on the short memory that the public has for their past," he said.

"We'll find out if they do."