Monday, 5 November 2012

Houlala ! Ashley Madison makes extra-marital waves in France

Danielle, Bernadette, Carla and Valérie will appreciate...
You would have thought that an Internet site which sells offers of adultery would be surplus to requirements in France given the long-standing reputation of the French for indulging in extra-marital affairs, but Noel Biderman, CEO of adultery hookup site Ashley Madison thinks otherwise, which is why he recently launched a French language version and has invested in a controversial publicity campaign in France to help it get off the ground.

Described by Wikipedia as 'an online dating service and social network service marketed primarily to people who are already in a relationship', the site's English language pages for the French market go further, proudly claiming that Ashley Madison 'is the most successful website for finding an affair and cheating partners. Have an Affair today on Ashley Madison. Thousands of cheating wives and cheating husbands signup everyday looking for an affair.'

Biderman opened his American site in 2001 but hesitated for a long time before investing in France, reasoning that whereas America offered fertile ground for his services given the relatively strict adherence to faithfulness which makes having an affair difficult there, the French had no such qualms and as such didn't want or need him. 

He changed his mind however after he became aware that there had been 850,000 hits on the U.S. site by people living in France in just 12 months. It was time for him to swing into action.

So he put the French site online at the end of last month and embarked on a boisterous publicity campaign. But the campaign soon stalled because his first ad poster - which depicted the last four French presidents with adultery-betraying lipstick marks on their faces - was boycotted by poster advertising companies who presumably feared the possibility of a legal backlash for slander, even though all four men are or were known to be notorious womanisers. It was only put up on two hoardings in Paris.

But those two hoardings were enough to earn Biderman's outfit a massive boost from the French press when they got wind of the story, whereupon they splashed it all over their front pages. 

Even better news followed when he launched, or tried to launch, his promotional TV video. It showed a man and a woman exchanging languorous and lascivious regards and kissing each other while a voice-off announces softly that "this woman has a husband, but it isn't him."

French publicity watchdogs went ballistic and instantly banned it on the grounds that "the explicit reference to marital links contained in the allegation 'this woman has a husband but it isn't him' is of a nature to shock the religious and philosophical convictions of television viewers."

This is a very curious (hypocritical?) reason for banning an ad in France given the country's professedly strong secular beliefs, and Biderman was quick to point that out, but his were only crocodile tears as he knew full well that the authorities - like the press - had done his job for him and put him back on the front pages. Mission accomplished and the site is now said to be ticking over quite nicely thank you ker-ching ker-ching.

It is too soon to say whether or not Ashley Madison France will become a major money-spinner for Biderman, and much depends on whether or not he can persuade the French that his site offers advantages over more traditional, and unique, ways of organising an extra-marital affair.

The market certainly does exist though, and a 2009 survey found that 18% of French men and 10% of French women declared themselves to be of an unfaithful nature. Biderman can also take heart from the fact that, a larger competitor, declared that its French clientèle were "the world champions of infidelity." The French press was only too pleased to hear it and proudly published the good news.

At the end of the day though, I'll never know how good or bad the Ashley Madison site is because as an unmarried man I am not in a position to be able to 'profit' from the site's offer.

Mind you, Biderman isn't a likely client either, or at least that's what he says. He is happily married with two children and he is also on the record as saying that not only would he "not cheat on his wife"*, he would be horrified to learn that she had used his site for the same reason....

(* But he would say that. Now wouldn't he...)

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