Ashley Madison prioritizes discretion. That shouldn’t be surprising for a dating site focused on infidelity, but it’s quite ironic given a 2015 scandal that exposed email addresses, credit card transactions, and the personal information of 32 million users.
At least two Ashley Madison users reportedly committed suicide in the wake of the massive hack and celebrities such as 19 Kids and Counting star Josh Duggar were publicly shamed for paying for an extramarital affairs website.
But while many predicted no chance of recovery and branding experts suggested the company must change its name, Ashley Madison surprisingly continues to live and even brandishes its same slogan: “Life is short. Have an affair.” (despite dropping it in 2016). In fact, Ashley Madison has been growing. It now claims 191,000 daily active users. Of course, that doesn’t encompass everyone since not every affair means texting via Ashley Madison everyday. A company spokesperson told Mashable more than 1.4 million unique connections are made every month and more than 1.5 million messages are sent each day.
Currently, Ashley Madison is on a public relations tour to tout that as success. The company is also armed with an audit from accounting firm Ernst & Young, which verified 5,673,024 real accounts were registered in 2017 and that the ratio of active paid users male to female was 1 to 1.13. While Ashley Madison was once outed for conning users with female bots, via a probe by the Federal Trade Commission, its comeback includes a “no bots” promise.
So what should Ashley Madison attribute to its own growth and the sheer fact that it still exists? Its own name, according to Ruben Buell, president and chief technology officer of Ashley Madison’s parent company Ruby Life.
“One of the great things about Ashley Madison is the brand. Around 60 percent of our traffic is organic,” Buell told Mashable. That statistic refers to global revenue coming from organic traffic to AshleyMadison.com or searching the name.
Change, but not too much
Not everything is the same over at Ashley Madison. Buell joined Ruby Life in February 2017 as chief technology officer and also became president in April that year. Ashley Madison’s parent company Avid Life Media also rebranded to Ruby Life in July 2016 with the president at the time saying the name was had a “sensual, feminine quality.”
Buell told Mashable he was attracted to the role at Ruby Life for two reasons: the challenge and the opportunity. “It was a company that was going through tremendous change. From a technology standpoint, it was tremendously interesting. It was going through a transformation,” he said.
Indeed, the last year at Ashley Madison has focused on rebuilding user trust in part in the wake of the 2015 scandal. The company hired a new chief privacy officer and chief security officer who have been in charge of building a new cybersecurity framework. The site is introducing two-factor authentication in the coming months.
For the most part, Ashley Madison is just like any other dating site except with its focus on infidelity. Despite reconsidering its slogan and brand, the company found in an analysis of its U.S. users in 2016 that 70 percent of the revenue was coming from accounts that were registered as attached.
“This led, in part, to the decision to focus our efforts on being the company we are known to be: the number one brand for married dating,” Buell said.
The company has made more of an effort to cater to women, such as through marketing campaigns glorifying female users rather than male.
A typical Ashley Madison user is someone who has “lived life, typically 40 plus, has been married, two kids, a dog. They’ve also figured out life isn’t a Cinderella Story,” Buell said. “People come on at a very honest spot, married individuals looking for married individuals with equal risk. The normal conversation on Ashley begins with ‘What are you on here for? What are you looking for?'”
Life with Ashley Madison
Buell, 43, may fit the age range of a “typical user,” but when asked if he had ever committed infidelity himself, he said his first marriage did not end due to an affair and his second is not the product of one.
Buell has been married to his wife for about 15 years. He has five teenage sons: three from this marriage and two from his previous marriage. The executive divides his time between Dallas, where his family is based, and Toronto, where his company is headquartered.
But even though he’s not personally engaged in the product, Buell said he sees the strength of infidelity as a business.
“Our number one competitor is the workforce. Stop dating your boss, or your secretary.”
“Whatever your position on it, infidelity has been around for forever. It certainly isn’t going anywhere. We fulfill a certain need, and we really try to make that better. Our number one competitor is the workforce. Stop dating your boss, or your secretary. Go on Ashley Madison and have discretion around it,” Buell said.
While success on another dating app like Tinder or Bumble may be finding your perfect match, success on Ashley Madison is “not being found out,” Buell said.
“Typically when someone has success on Ashley, you can make them a customer for life. Typically they’re not looking for one relationship on the side. They’re looking for somebody to talk to. Make them feel good, make them feel special,” he added.
The next base
Ashley Madison wants to keep growing. The company currently has 153 employees in their offices in Toronto and Cyprus and plans to reach 173 by the end of the year.
The company is also putting more resources behind mobile. About 77 percent of Ashley Madison’s traffic comes from the mobile web or apps.
With regards to making money, Ashley Madison currently offers a credit-based system that can be exchanged to open chats and send messages. But in the near future, the company hopes to launch a new subscription service which users could pay on a monthly or yearly basis.
For Buell, he’s still focused on the individuals who currently use or could join Ashley Madison.
“On a daily basis the biggest thing that we do is talk to customers and try to build a better experience,” Buell said. “We’re extremely customer focused.”