While a gay dating website that was barred by CBS from running an ad during the Super Bowl may have grounds to charge it was discriminated against, the site’s parent company has a track record of operating provocative websites and seeking out press coverage to promote them.
“The rejection is very general,” said Dominic Friesen, a co-founder of mancrunch.com, the website. “It just says the ad is not within the CBS broadcast standards.”
Mancrunch.com is operated by Avid Life Media, a Toronto company that runs six websites. Friesen, who is also an officer in Bridge and Tunnel Communications, a Los Angeles public relations firm, would not disclose the ownership structure of mancrunch.com, saying it was confidential.
Gay dating website cries foul, but parent company has flair for such PR
Friesen said the company spent $100,000 producing a 30-second spot intended to air during the February 7 Super Bowl and that it was prepared to pay $2.6 million. The ad, which shows two men kissing after their hands inadvertently touch, was presented to CBS earlier in January and rejected on January 29.
“The bottom line is we submitted an ad that we felt was fairly conservative,” Friesen said. “If we were out there submitting an ad just for the shock value, we could have gone much further.”
In a brief note to mancrunch.com, CBS wrote “that the creative is not within the network’s standards for Super Bowl Sunday.”
CBS also wrote that it “has had difficulty verifying your organization’s credit status. Should you wish to explore future buys on [CBS], the credit issue will have to be clarified. At that point, our Standards and Practices Department would be open to working with you on acceptable creative and appropriate daypart scheduling.”
Friesen said that his bank had written to CBS to affirm the website’s credit and that the network had not responded to repeated efforts by mancrunch.com to address the ad’s content.
“We have made every attempt to find out what the network needs from us to present the ad, and they have not responded,” Friesen said. “This is indicative to us that it is discrimination.”
While the rejection has sparked some outrage in the gay blogosphere, it has also prompted speculation that it was created to be rejected so the site could milk the ensuing publicity.
“Was it just for all this attention?” Friesen said. “Absolutely not. We’re still trying to get our ad on the air.”
While Avid is privately held, the company prepared but withdrew a 2010 initial public offering on the Toronto stock exchange.
The Globe and Mail, a Toronto newspaper, said Avid reported sales of $30 million in 2009 and earnings of $8 million before paying interest and taxes and accounting for other expenses such as depreciation. That suggests that Avid was prepared to spend an amount equivalent to more than ten percent of its 2009 expense budget for all of its websites on a single ad buy.
Avid operates ashleymadison.com, a website for married people who wish to meet others for extramarital affairs, establishedmen.com, a site where younger women can meet older rich men, swappernet.com, a site for swingers, hotornot.com, a straight dating site, and cougarlife.com, a site where older women can meet younger men.
“We‘re just disappointed,” said Noel Biderman, president of Avid. “We think we built a really great dating service for men… We made a kitschy, fun ad for a reason. We wanted to make it humorous.”
When the ad was rejected, Biderman said the company thought, “How do we take this to the streets… We think CBS is out of touch with the times.”
Ashleymadison.com ran an ad during the January 31 Pro Bowl, and it ran one on an NBC affiliate station in Texas during the 2009 Super Bowl.
In 2009, ashleymadison.com tried to buy $200,000 worth of ads on Toronto buses, but was rejected. Avid effectively worked the press over that rejection. Infinity Communications, a Canadian public relations firm with three offices in North America, called it “the most ingenious publicity stunt of the year.”
In 2008, Simone Dadoun-Cohen co-founded establishedmen.com with Avid and garnered significant coverage as the press explored if the site was promoting prostitution. The site was profiled on ABC’s Nightline.