Dec. 22, 2011 at 1:54 PM ET
Celebrity endorsements are nothing new in the world of advertising, but one dating website is running an ad campaign that probably isn’t such welcome publicity to the famous faces involved.
AshleyMadison.com, which hooks up married people with people they're not married to, mounted a billboard advertisement in Pennsylvania last week featuring Republican presidential hopeful and former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich.
The billboard depicts a frowning, solemn shot of Gingrich, who is holding up one finger as if scolding someone. In reference to Gingrich’s two marriages that ended in divorce due to his admitted infidelities, the billboard features the slogan: “Faithful Republican…Unfaithful Husband. Welcome to the Ashley Madison.com era.”
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said the politician’s camp had no comment on the ad.
Noel Biderman, CEO of Ashley Madison said the billboard is meant to illustrate that, as a contender for political office, Gingrich should only be judged on his abilities as a politician, and shouldn’t be faulted for his personal indiscretions.
“We continue to take the notion that politicians who suffer in their personal lives … are people who are not fit to run our country,” said Biderman. “We have to stop this very unhealthy notion in the political arena in general that somehow these personal choices lead to character flaws.”
Some may view Biderman’s point as a thinly veiled excuse to paste a famous face on an advertisement for a website that’s taken a lot of heat for encouraging extramarital affairs. After all, this isn’t the first celebrity — or politician-themed ad for the company. It has run ads featuring California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, president Bill Clinton, Prince Charles, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, and King Juan Carlos I of Spain, all of whom have been accused of or have admitted to cheating on their spouses.
Biderman said Ashley Madison doesn’t seek permission from politicians to use their images in advertisements, but he did receive an "ambiguous" letter from the office of King Juan Carlos I, expressing the monarch's displeasure with it, so it was taken down. And he said that the billboard operator who posted the Berlusconi ad was threatened within 24 hours of mounting it, so that ad was removed, too.
According to Biderman (who said he himself has been happily married for eight years), the whole idea to run advertisements featuring politicians started when Governor Eliot Spitzer was caught dallying with a call girl. So Ashley Madison ran a full-page ad in the New York Post, saying Spitzer could have avoided getting caught if he’d instead used the site to have an affair.
From there, Ashley Madison began running a rash of advertisements about politicians, and on its website maintains a list of prominent politicians who have cheated on their spouses. Who might be the next one to be spotlighted in an Ashley Madison ad? “There’s always somebody,” Biderman said. “I can guarantee somebody will pop up."
Ashley Madison also recently reached out to Republican presidential ex-candidate Herman Cain, offering him a job at the company and a $400,000 a year paycheck to be a brand ambassador of sorts. Cain hasn’t responded to the request. Biderman said he’s even more interested in working with Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who has been accused of cheating on her husband but has denied the charges.
No matter, said Biderman, who added, “Nobody’s perfect. We’re not genetically engineered to be monogamous."
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