I’ve never considered the free market to be a paragon of morality, so imagine my surprise when I read that AshleyMadison.com, a website that facilitates adultery, endured a slew of rejection in its failed attempt to become a publicly traded company on Bay Street and to advertise at the Super Bowl.
“Ashley Madison shouldn’t be a public venture, because it can destroy families,” said billionaire investment-fund manager Stephen Jarislowsky in an interview with Canadian Business.
The founder of the website, Noel Biderman, has worked hard trying to sell himself to the public as a crusader for capitalism, fighting for the triumph of free-market values over the prejudiced morals of self-righteous bankers. In an interview with Time Out New York, Biderman tried to avert the public’s suspicious eyes by comparing his behaviour to that of “a good entrepreneur” who is at “the forefront of an idea.” Basically, he suggested if a business is legal and profitable, let it sell. Morality has no place in the market.
Morality? Get real: these are bankers on Bay Street we’re talking about. The real reason for the rejection is AshleyMadison.com is unpopular with the public and therefore risky for investors.
The Super Bowl organizers aren’t saints. After all, they have played political favourites in the past by allowing ads featuring half-naked Victoria Secret models and pro-life commercials, but rejecting ads encouraging homosexual dating and vegetarianism.
Sure, Biderman’s website has received a lot of publicity, but most of has been negative. The Ashley Madison homepage proudly boasts the company has been noticed by big-time talk show hosts like Oprah Winfrey and “Dr. Phil” McGraw. But McGraw told an Ashley Madison representative he hugely disagrees with the way the agency believes having an affair is “a good alternative to dealing with the issues in a marriage.”
Ashley Madison hasn’t done Oprah proud either. Although the AshleyMadison.com homepage boasts more than five million members, a blog called “Regretting affair on Ashley Madison” on oprah.com showcases the negative experiences of women who have used the site. One woman reports being immediately dumped because her Ashley Madison lover moved onto another user. He also gave her a serious STD. It’s difficult to see how the site’s “100 per cent refund guarantee” for a failed affair will be of any consolation to this woman, given the nature of her problems are emotional and medical, not financial.
Investors are wary of the website on financial grounds, if it was sure to make a lot of money they would surely approve it in a heartbeat. But morality sells, when Tiger Woods’ marketability plunged along with his public approval rating, it demonstrated that there are few things more potent in destroying the profitability of an entity – whether it be an individual or a corporation – than an affair.
Advocates of Ashley Madison argue that if a product is legal, it should be sold on the market, even if it’s unhealthy, because selling “sinful” goods can be lucrative. It is, after all, by selling alcohol during a period of prohibition that the Bronfman family gained wealth and prominence. And companies such as McDonald’s have made a fortune off their unhealthy meal deals. But having an affair isn’t the same as having a Big Mac or a beer. Having one Big Mac or one beer is not likely to ruin your health forever, but having one affair is likely to kill your marriage.
AshleyMadison.com might not even be so legal; GMP, the firm responsible for marketing the website to private investors, stopped representing the website on the suspicion that it promotes prostitution, after they read a user post by a university student who was looking for a “sugar daddy” to pay her bills in exchange for sexual favours, according to Canadian Business.
Biderman should stop trying to market himself as a good businessman and stop pretending that his site would have succeeded as a larger, publicly-traded company if it wasn’t for censorship based on morality. AshleyMadison.com was rejected from Bay street, not because of bankers’ personal concern for families across North America, but because of the financial risk associated with the site’s unpopular public image and the irreparable emotional and physical damage it is inflicting on people’s lives.