Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Aug 29, 2013

AshleyMadison.com is not shy about seeking potential adulterers in Hong Kong

HONG KONG - One might expect a business that explicitly promotes marital infidelity to take a subtle approach to marketing, but AshleyMadison founder Noel Biderman, who brings his website for people seeking affairs to Hong Kong this week, takes quite the opposite tack.

wide player in 16:9 format. Used on article page for Campaign.

This stressful and competitive city is the second regional launch (after Japan) of the online dating website for married men and women seeking affairs. Biderman, who boldly argues that affairs save rather than threaten marriages, is planning to put that message across in television ads currently being negotiated.

TV is Biderman's priority, over the internet advertising favoured by other online dating sites, due to its ability to establish "credibility" based on the large amount of adspend. "People realise it costs money to advertise on TV; plus you can't build a brand online".

Why Hong Kong and why now? The Canadian entrepreneur said that his company “totally underestimated the desire” here and how big the "infidelity economy" is.

“People living in cities with high socioeconomic pressure have higher possibilities to be dissatisfied with their marriages,” Biderman said. AshleyMadison provides these individuals "an outlet where they can get rid of their stress instead of taking it home”.

Rather than seeing his business as one which promotes cheating, Biderman believes that it is a remedy to save marriages. "An affair is much cheaper than a divorce,” according to his spin.

The 2011 Hong Kong Census shows that there were nearly 20,000 divorces filed that year—10 times more than 30 years ago.

Moreover, the gender ratio of local men to women between the ages 25 to 54 is 88:100, "providing Hong Kong men with a larger pool of women to cheat with".

The selling point of AshleyMadison in Hong Kong is how it facilitates users from one location to find companions in another area. “This is especially important for expatriates and business people who spend the majority of their time travelling,” said Biderman.

There are many doubts as to how the business is going to work in a overcrowded place like Hong Kong, but Biderman does not seem concerned. “For most of our users, hotels are the meeting place of choice, and you’d be surprised how many fancy hotels secretly offer hourly rates that are quite affordable," he said.

Prior to its official launch in the region last week, the company has already seen more than 320,000 individual attempts to access the website from Hong Kong, he revealed.

The site's global user base of more than 20 million in 29 regions generates more than US$$100 million in annual revenue. Biderman claimed that it is the second-fastest growing social network after Facebook.

For Hong Kong, Biderman is anticipating 70,000 new members in the first month and between 300,000 to 500,000 within the first year to subscribe, which costs HK$350 for 100 credits that allow conversations with 20 members.

The website mainly targets married women, but married men sign up naturally after—much like how "guys flock to bars and pubs during Ladies' Nights", said Biderman, who named the website using the two most popular female baby names in February 2002.

"You don't have to walk very far to find some kind of sexual playground for men, but it's much harder for women," said Biderman, citing his reason to focus on female acquisition.

Where most online dating sites use half-naked women to lure users, AshleyMadison.com chooses to portray a 'girls’ night out' feeling to attract married women and make them feel even more comfortable about having an affair with "no strings attached and no sloppy endings".

With marriage going through "a metamorphosis" and women's economic qualities on the rise, the business case to cater to the unfaithful is easily established, he said. 

Outside of Hong Kong, Biderman said AshleyMadison tends to do better with financially-independent working women who are married. "It's a bit of a myth that it's the bored housewife who has an affair, it's really not true".

Although people believe that adultery is morally wrong, "we all know that people cheat", Biderman said, adding that 41 per cent of marriages involve at least one spouse who has cheated. And 68 per cent of women and 74 per cent of men would have an affair "if they knew they wouldn't get caught," he asserted.

However, Biderman emphasised he is not trying to persuade people to have affairs. "That is an impossible effort; all I can do is to reach out to like-minded people who've already decided to have an affair, but not to do it in their workplace or via Facebook," he said.

"My entire marketing strategy is about cannibalisation, not convincing. So we're just trying to plant the seed that we exists for people with this behaviour pattern".

With its honest 'Life is short, have an affair' slogan, Biderman is trying to attract media owners to accept its advertising, which is produced in Toronto by his agency Avid Life Media and has been seen throughout North America and Europe. Examples include TV spots and outdoor banners (pictured below) featuring famous world leaders who have had affairs.

A localisation idea during a brainstorming session for the launch with its PR consultancy DT Communications was to use the territory's ex-Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, who admitted to an affair with Shirley Yuen, his administrative assistant, when he was Finance Secretary of Hong Kong in 2011.

When asked about his response to reactionary criticism and condemnation, Biderman told Campaign Asia-Pacific that society has to "accept the reality" and that media owners have a choice to put either morality or business first.

"We face a form of censorship unlike other legal businesses though we're a communication platform not that different from singles' dating sites, that are afforded the luxury of marketing anywhere they want," he said.

"Publishers and broadcasters should be in the business of publishing and broadcasting, not controlling what readers and viewers see and watch".

He is plannng to pay up to double the TV media rates to secure suitable late-night slots in female-centred channels—the "bags of money" approach.

"If we still don't get anywhere, I'm going to scream at the top of my lungs why won't you take my ad? Hong Kong is supposed to be the free-est market on the planet; this is where capitalism is king".

For the HK launch, Biderman predicts he will spend "effectively HK$10 million", with the goal to break even within 12 to 18 months and turn profitable after that. "The website technology is already built; it only takes a little nesting and marketing to realise good investment returns".

Before creating AshleyMadison.com, Biderman worked as a sports agent, a business in which he became an expert in helping professional athletes juggle their wives and mistresses.

When he discovered that one-third of online-dating website members were already married, he saw a potential business opportunity.

"We're not engineered for monogamy," he said. Monogamous marriage is just an economic concept to enable the preservation of property and assets for one's progeny for personal legacy, he stipulated. "I'm trying to correct this traditional cultural narrative; it ain't easy".

The controversial site launched in Japan earlier in July. Biderman said it was able to attract nearly 1 million new sign-ups due to "pent-up-demand" in the first two months.

Other Asian countries without the service (yet), such as South Korea and mainland China, saw 817,000 and 640,000 interested users accessing the website in the past 12 months, he added.

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