But I will say that these three new spots — delicate, wistful, illustrating that flicker of desire at the prospect of connection with an attractive stranger — definitely class up the joint.
Of course, there was nowhere to go but up. Just one year ago, the company was plunged into cheater’s hell, when a Web site breach revealed millions of users’ identities to the entire world.
So much for discretion.
Back then, the tagline—“Life is Short. Have an affair”—was just one of the brash, winky-winky attempts at lighthearted comedy the “Pioneer in the married-dating space” made. (That phrase comes from the site. They also call it “discreet dating.” )
The logo boasted a disembodied wedding band in place of the lower-case "o" in Madison, (fun!) along with a photo that reduced a woman to a pair of lips, with a pointer finger on them: an R-rated version of a “shush.”
Post-hack, however, there were definitely some unprivate and unfunny consequences. There were two reported suicides, and a lot of hard-to-measure, but real, damage to the families and careers of the outees.
Indeed, the historic dump also revealed a level of you-can’t-make-this-up shadiness. Many of the active male members—poor, lonely, Dilberts, as it were, had no idea that for their $19 or so a month, they were actually communicating with bots, not women, most of the time. The number of real females who were active on the site was an infinitesimal fraction of what the company claimed.
OK, so 12 months later (that was quick!), the company sports new ownership and a complete makeover. The parent body has been renamed “Ruby”—does that seem more earnest, less pole dancer-ish? And the ads, smartly, focus on female outreach.
To their credit, the 60-second spots promise nothing, except the soft focus of desire. They are nicely made, and seem like tiny scenes out of European movies. (But the actors are super-white. Isn’t that a mistake when appealing to an urban population?)
By far, the best part of these spots is the music, by singer Tom Rosenthal. He adds Tom Waits-like depth to a wordless visual that is otherwise, not to put too fine a point on it, creepy.
“Subway” opens on a lonely guy getting ready for work in the morning. We see him sadly spreading jam on his toast in his stripped-down 1950s bachelor kitchen.
Though the spot sets him up as a guy with a dull job and life, his looks are odd rather than boring. This seems to be the season of casting guys with interesting noses (see the recent Volvo campaign.) On his way home from work, he makes eye contact with an attractive young professional woman on the subway. She gets up from her seat and approaches him. Odds of this happening in real life? I’d go with never to never, unless she’s a psycho-grifter.
What I liked about the second one, “Hotel,” is that it has the feel of the George Clooney movie “Up in the Air.” Clooney plays a guy who revels in the anonymity of living out of a carry-on bag. That movie, like most classic films and literature about infidelity, ends in heartbreak. (Many others are morality tales that end in muuuuurder.)
Whereas our Ashley Madison woman is merely bored and angry. She even hacks at a cucumber in her kitchen! The cues here are not nuanced. At work, she’s handed an envelope that says “tickets for conference” in big black letters.
She’s shown rolling out of her house and into a hotel, where the guy behind the desk is a silver fox: like a younger version of Volvo’s white-haired hot-yoga-dad! There’s something in the air, and she smiles.
The creepiest is “Poly,” short for polyamory. No wonder this couple is prospecting for a third. Is there any other kind of marriage in the world of Ashley Madison but lifeless? These two are shown at home as two drab bags of neuterage. But they go to a party and confer about the attractions of a smiling red-headed waitress.
To me (always looking on the bright side), this signaled that these easily bored people see Red as an interesting side of beef. Later, when she’s finished cleaning up, they will invite her out, put a hood over her head, stash her in the back of their van, and bring her to their suburban subterranean bunker, to join their other sex slaves. But maybe I’m just being unromantic.
The new tag line is “Find your moment.” Actually, this Ashley Madison remake comes at a revolutionary time in the culture, sex-wise.
In the last year or two, we have adapted with amazing speed to accommodate a huge spectrum of gender and sexual identities. Facebook, a kind of social mirror of society, now offers nearly 60 different gender options, including “questioning” and “bigender”—or no gender at all.
But is infidelity part of this new sexual fluidity? Is a company like Ashley Madison actually modernizing and upending traditional roles and relationship expectations?
These spots mostly show cisgender couples, and the threesome is your basic straight-male fantasy: two women and a man. Talk about boring and white bread: There is no suggestion of homosexuality, or interracial, transgender, etc. etc. dating.
The final irony here, of course, is that the company itself was caught cheating big-time, but apologizes profusely. It has gone to therapy and undergone some very good aesthetic surgery to drive home the point.
To me, it’s just the same old strip club—now dressed up as an in-the-know cultural hipster salon.
Back to slicing the same old cucumber. Got anything else, Ruby?