The Players: Noel Biderman, CEO of Ashley Madison, a dating web site (12.2 million members and counting) whose slogan is: "Life is short. Have an affair."; "Jacqueline", a plus-sized model and porn entrepreneur who unknowingly appeared as the punchline of two of Ashley Madison's ads
The Opening Serve: Jacqueline took to Jezebel two days ago to air her side of the Ashley Madison story. One of the ads in question (above), features Jacqueline with the text, "Did Your Wife Scare You Last Night" scrawled above her picture. Ashley Madison also used Jacqueline's image in a second ad (right). "I am mortified that my image and likeness would be used as advertisement for two things I am so vehemently against: namely cheating and, to an even greater extent, body shaming." Jacqueline wrote. "It's bad enough that a business exists that encourages and profits from cheaters, but, worse still, that they have the gall to blame a woman's body on the act, rather than the man who is incapable of commitment and loyalty." She followed up with ABC, "This is a foul message to send women and to do so repeatedly shows a great lack of respect and overall sense of disdain towards women, especially those who do not fit this company's ideal body image."
The Return Volley: Biderman responded to Jacqueline's Jezebel post:
The best thing that could've happened to this woman is that we used her in our ad. Despite what she may want you to think, she is reaping the press for her own pornography website. She took these pictures and signed the release knowing that they were not just for 'personal use.' However, if she can get great publicity from this, all the power to her.
He also talked to ABC, telling them that he bought the picture off of Getty Images. "She is either being naive or she is the greatest self-promoter," he said. "No one does this for personal use. They try to make money off the image." He added, "I don't think it's a jab at fat people ... I always try to do advertising in real-life situations. For many people, a [spouse] is less attractive because they don't pay attention to their body type."
What They Say They're Fighting About: The advertisements and Ashley Madison. Biderman argues that Jacqueline's rights were signed away in the contract. And he also adds that his ad depicts a truth of real life relationships. Jacqueline doesn't really question the legality of the ad. Her gripes are with the company who decided to use her picture.
What They're Really Fighting About: Moral high horses. Jacqueline already believes Ashley Madison is a morally-faulty business and wants to add sexism on top of that charge. But Biderman isn't shy about pointing out Jacqueline's porn business (an industry that still divides critics on sexism, cheating, misogyny, etc.) and how that and her her publicity-seeking undercut her argument about Ashley Madison.
Who's Winning Now: Draw. Yes, the Ashley Madison ads are in bad taste. But how much taste are you expecting from a web site that encourages infidelity? That said, Ashley Madison doesn't really owe Jacqueline anything if she signed her rights away in the picture. And clients certainly don't have any obligation to stick with Ashley Madison in light of their marketing decisions. What's at stake here, as Biderman notes, is plenty of publicity, which both sides crave.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.