Dating site discreetly woos Canadians with Web and mobile

A rejection of his ad from the esteemed commercial roster for this past weekend’s Superbowl doesn’t concern the CEO of the fastest-growing dating Web site in North America.

CEO Noel Biderman knew the rejection would win his new dating site for gay men — ManCrunch — more exposure on news media than he could have paid for with that expensive ad spot. Indeed, Larry King interviewed him in the week leading up to the Superbowl.

The rejected ad simply led to more people watching the video online and finding the niche dating service.

“We identify underserviced market segments and we create businesses for them,” Biderman says. “We’re proud of Ashley Madison, it’s the fastest growing dating site in North America and that’s a phenomenal accomplishment.”

The Ashley Madison Agency is Biderman’s most famous (some would argue, infamous) dating service – caters to folk already in committed relationships or marriages, looking to have a discreet affair. With slogans like “life is short, have an affair”, little wonder the service’s advertisements were banned from the 2009 Superbowl. Just like this year’s ManCrunch ads.

It’s all part of the plan for the Toronto-based firm, according to Biderman.

“We realized we had a challenge,” he tells a crowd gathered for Toronto’s Social Media Week. “We learned to be sophisticated and have a Plan B.”

Plan B means audience engagement online, he explains. Using a Twitter account to connect with users, reaching out to the blog community, and personally responding to every e-mail received – whether good or bad.

The approach seems to be working.

Since launching eight years ago, Ashley Madison has 5.2 million members in four different countries. There have also been several spin-off Web sites, each looking to fill a niche dating service gap. Established Men promises to connect rich businessmen with young, beautiful women for “mentoring.” Other Web sites connect older women with young men, or cater to the swingers lifestyle.

Canadians are likely candidates to create accounts on these Web sites, according to Bryan Segal, vice-president at comScore Inc. About one in five Canadians will visit a personals site in a given month, and that’s the highest rate in the world.

Ashley Madison sees 600,000 unique visitors per month from the U.S. and 120,000 from Canada. But the growth for the site in Canada has been 10 times what it has been south of the border.

Personals Web sites are “not only a way to generate money through fees, but also becoming an advertising platform,” Segal says. “Single people – or married people – are buyers of products.”

The top personals sites in Canada include Plentyoffish.com, eHarmony, Kijiji, Lavalife, and Match.com. Advertisers on such sites include credible brands such as Royal Bank of Canada, Microsoft, Dell and Telus.

Ashley Madison’s success doesn’t stop with its Web site. Given the service’s discreet nature, it’s no surprise that the mobile application has 750,000 subscribers. This is a result of users not wanting to risk using the service on a home computer, and not being able to on a work computer, Biderman says.

But whether it’s arranging an affair via the Web, or mobile device, Biderman won’t take a fault for causing infidelity.

“As much as I think I’m a good advertiser and a public relations expert, I think people tend to stray because of the way their personal relationships are going,” he says. “Their personal life is not meeting their expectations.”

Ashley Madison often sees traffic surges right after couples-oriented events, such as Valentine’s Day, or on Monday mornings after a disappointing weekend.

Canadians and adult Web sites

comScore’s Segal also had some revealing statistics about the popularity of adult content Web sites among the Canadian population.

On average, 14 million Canadians visit adult Web sites each month, he says, and at a ratio of about 60 per cent men to 40 per cent women. Yet those who visit personals Web sites are much more likely to visit adult content sites, with 76 per cent of personals users also seeking adult content.

“I don’t need to tell you what that means,” Segal says.

Men are just as likely to visit the sites at any time of day, he adds. But women are most likely to visit the sites at 2 a.m.

“Once the guys go to sleep, then the women come on the Web,” Segal says.

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