Thirty-seven Million People Are Having a PR Crisis But Here’s Why Ashley Madison Isn’t

The Knight Canney group asks "Does Ashley Madison really have a PR crisis on its hands?”

The thrill of illicit liaisons is about to turn to the agony of family dissolution for millions of people who have used the services of AshleyMadison.com.

As first reported by KrebsonSecurity.com, Ashley Madison, whose company slogan is, “Life is Short, Have an Affair,” not only was criminally hacked, but the private details of its customers were leaked online deliberately.

Criminal hacking of a company is a PR crisis we’ve discussed before. Companies whose security is breached have a customer confidence issue that needs to be repaired quickly. Trust needs to be restored.

The case of Ashley Madison and its parent company, Avid Life Media, is a little more complicated: This is a company whose primary product is deceit. It’s easy to look at this story and say, “Who cares? Sounds like everyone involved is getting their just desserts.”

But it’s intriguing from a PR perspective—

  • Is it easier or harder to restore trust with clients whose whole reason for using your company is to betray trust?
  • How hard is it for a company to rebuild trust when its whole business plan depends on enticing people to cheat?
  • A better question may be, does it need to?

Leaving aside any moral judgments regarding this website, the fact is, everyone lies. Everyone cheats. Not necessarily in a marriage, but at some point in everyone’s life, lies are told or shortcuts taken that when exposed to close examination are not a source of pride.

For most people, there’s no better gut check to eliminate all justifications for lying or cheating than the moment of exposure—or near exposure. Whether it’s the IRS, the boss, a parent, or a spouse ferretting out the lie, it’s a devastating feeling to know that others know the truth. So, wouldn’t such a data breach be enough to keep Ashley Madison customers from coming back? (Or ever going on line or leaving the house again?)

The site is certainly a magnet the curious if not the actual partakers. It gets 124.5 million visitors. A month. The average visitor spends a little more than 2 minutes on the site; so most either got there by “accident” or decided there was nothing to see and moved along.

At least 37 million people stayed. Will they go back? (They may be divorced soon enough, so it may be moot.) What about all those who stopped by but left without signing up? Will they go back or will they bless that bullet they dodged and be done with it?

Available throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, Ashley Madison has an unlimited pool of users. About 40% of the world population has an Internet connection. That’s more than 3,167,360,000 people and the number is ticking up every second. Given the pre-disposition of humans to lie and cheat, I’m betting there’s 37 million more out there who won’t have a problem signing up.

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