Controversial infidelity site Ashley Madison surprised punters across the globe with its latest advertising campaign: part of a larger rebrand designed to shake its bad reputation following a very public security leak earlier this year.
While previous ad stints saw Ashley Madison top Australia's most complained-about ad list – and take home the record of all time complaints the new approach is an entirely different tact.
In a move from its offensive 'looking for someone other than my wife' jingle, the brand's new approach uses folk music and relatable scenarios to soften the taboo surrounding its services.
Put together by its in-house creative team the new campaign aims to broaden the appeal of its customer base beyond cheating spouses.
Critics of the ad have called it “poignant”, “sombre”, even, dare we say it, sweet. But is it effective? We ask some of the best minds in Australian creative what they think.
DDB Melbourne creative director Glen Dickson says while “it feels a bit wrong to come out too strongly in favour of these sports, for obvious reasons”, he actually likes the work, putting the success of the creative down to the emotion in the ads.
“There's a surprising humanity in the work: a real understanding of what goes through everyone’s mind at some stage or other, whether they’re the type to act on things or not,” Dickson says.
“The small moments of connection, the little windows to what might be are handled with subtly – except the bit where the shunned wife chops up a cucumber in front of her husband.” He adsds that “the Tom Rosenthal soundtrack is a success”.
Chief strategy officer at 303 MullenLowe, Jon McKie, says the emotional connection is the cleverest part of the ad, because it goes some way to justify why someone would use the Ashley Madison service.
The ad itself doesn't mention Ashley Madison as a brand until the title credits at the end, and it almost promotes the behaviour more so than the brand.
McKie says it marks a huge departure from previous ads that were almost promoted having an affair as a selfish exercise.
“The previous campaign was about going out and having fun. 'Live life to the full and have an affair' is quite negative because it's unjustified,” McKie says.
“They've landed this emotional benefit to using Ashley Madison which is an attempt to justify morally why you could participate.
“It's saying 'this is a problem in society', that there are a lot of people in joyless marriages who are very lonely, and it's presenting Ashley Madison as a solution. It's quite clever the way they've done that and tonally with the music they've used. The casting is interesting too because they're not cliché pretty people – they're quite real.”
Not all creatives where impressed with the work however. McKie thought that some incarnations of the brand message, particularly the one promoting a couple having a threesome, were too subtle to the point where the messaging was confusing.
GYP&R executive creative director Brendon Greaney agreed that the spot wasn't clear enough to work.
“I made the mistake of showing these ads to my wife without telling her why. After some hurried and awkward explanations, she had the same reaction as me on first viewing: 'WTF was that?',” Greaney says. “This neatly illustrates why marketers shouldn’t do their own advertising. When you live and breathe nothing but the brand 24/7 it's impossible to keep perspective.
“You assume your audience is into your product as much as you are. The result is advertising that makes your audience work too hard to decode.”
Greaney's other issue with the ad was its history of brand campaigns. He says going from trashy to discreet in one fell swoop is “too much of a stretch in one go and comes off as insincere”. As to whether it will help reframe the brand, and push it to a broader audience sect he says “maybe”.
“But as my wife said, it's hard to get past what it is they do,” he adds.
Dickson agrees that given its bad press, especially in terms of security, it might not reframe the brand.
“Is it enough to win back the millions of members who had their sexual peccadilloes broadcast to the world last time round? I doubt it,” Dickson says. “But at least Ashley Madison now seems to be asking us to have a heart, not just to have an affair.”
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