The branding and rebranding of infidelity

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The branding and rebranding of infidelity

How far can rebranding take a company after it has experienced a serious challenge to its brand, especially when your branded service
is infidelity. If you are Avid Life Media, Inc., the answer may not be encouraging. Kat readers may not recognize Avid Life Media, but they are more likely to be familiar with the website under which the company used to provide its services—Ashley Madison. Under this brand, the company offered so-called infidelity dating services. Whatever one thinks about the service itself, all would likely agree that the success of the site rests both on discretion of information and the security of the data provided by its customers, and that the company adheres to acceptable standards of business practice. Call this customer credibility. Alas, this credibility has been shattered.

Accompanied by much media attention, Ashley Madison in 2015 suffered the embarrassment of hackers leaking information about 37,000,000 users to the public. After this occurred, there were reports that the site had maintained substandard data security, this despite the fact that the site contained trust marks, including an icon called “trusted security award” (since removed), attesting to the site’s high level of security. Public investigations have followed regarding the operation of the website. If this is not enough, it is reported that class action suits have been filed in the U.S. and Canada alleging that the site made use of computer programs, called “fembots”, to impersonate profiles of real women, presumably to encourage paid membership.

Against this backdrop Avid Life Media announced last month that it would engage in a wide-spread rebranding of the site and service. Start with the name itself. “Ashley Madison” is gone; in its place, the site will be known as “ruby”. As the company stated---
"Modern relationships are multi-faceted and that's why we chose ruby as our new name," says newly appointed President James Millership. "We like that ruby has a sensual, feminine quality, connotes value and fits with the fresh start our company is undergoing," he says.
Moreover, the company has replaced its tagline— “Life is short. Have an Affair”, with the slogan--“Find Your Moment”. As the CEO of the company, Rob Segal explains—
“[Life is Short. Have an Affair] … was a limiting label that's out-dated and doesn't speak to the wide variety of connections people find on Ashley Madison," says Segal. "Close to 45% of our members are single, over 50% are attached and they are interested in a wide range of experiences. While remaining true to our roots, Ashley Madison needs to evolve, grow and attune to modern sexuality in 2016," he says.
One can question just how far rebranding the name and tagline of the service and a pivot in the mission statement of the service can take Avid Life Media in light of the continuing legal and regulatory challenges, and the adverse publicity that it generates. While the circumstances are radically different, it is still worthwhile considering the well-known response by Johnson & Johnson to the commercial survival of the market-leader Tylenol brand in October 1982, in the face of the death of seven people in Chicago reportedly after having taken extra-strength Tylenol pain-killer. The cause of these deaths was the tampering by an unknown person, who put lethal quantities of cyanide into the capsules. The immediate impact as reported was that the market share of Tylenol dropped from 37% to only 7%. The company was faced with how to react to this tragedy without doing permanent harm to both the product and the company brand itself. The steps it took included the following:

1. Immediate recall of the Tylenol product from the shelves.

2. Formulate a strategy to re-introduce the product to the market, under the same product name, to seek and recover consumer confidence by--
(i) Providing for triple-seal tamper resistant packaging (being the first company to do so).

(ii) Offering an easily obtained $2.50 off coupon on the purchase of the product.

(iii) Introduce a new program to provide discounted pricing.

(iv) Send thousands of sales personnel to meet with the medical community.

(v) Be credible in conveying the message that the company’s first duty was to maintain the safety of the public in connection with the company’s products.
The lessons of the J&J Tylenol story have been studied and applied many times, sometimes successfully and sometimes less so. The ultimate
test is whether the company has regained its credibility in the eyes of the consumer. Changing, or maintaining, one’s brand name; changing, or maintaining, one’s mission statement, may help in blunting the negative connotations associated with the company, after a crisis has occurred, but they are not direct instruments for regaining consumer confidence. How ruby/Avid Life Media deals with the more existential elements of reestablishing customer confidence has just begun.

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