Why the Ashley Madison hack has done amazing things for the brand

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The dating website hack is fascinating, says Justin Basini, co-founder and CEO at ClearScore, as it raises interesting questions about morality, marketing and privacy.

The Ashley Madison attack is the juiciest of all hacks so far perpetrated. This is not millions of dry boring credit card details only interesting to fraudsters. No, this is the details of 37 million people who have, or want to have, affairs. Their details, including names, photos and even sexual fantasies could soon be up for public consumption.

The group responsible for the hacking, the so-called 'ImpactTeam', have pitched this as a moral battle with them in the role of hero and Ashley Madison as the villains. The next few weeks will be fascinating to watch as the moral battle ebbs and flows.

As the morality play progresses, there is also a marketing war going on and it is being fought over three main fields of battle: brand awareness, consumer proposition and trust.

Every cheating cloud

The hack has done amazing things for the Ashley Madison brand. Previously a slightly illicit brand, now millions more people have heard of it and even better understand its offer.

If the hacked data is exposed to all, there will also be millions of current users, lapsed users and suspicious spouses desperate to find out whether they or their partner has been exposed as a cheater. The publicity means Ashley Madison the brand gets an awareness boost and first interaction for "free". 

Following the boost in brand awareness, the next test will be whether the consumer proposition is powerful enough to overcome brand distrust.

What's clear, whether you approve or not, is a platform which makes cheating more accessible is an attractive consumer proposition for some. But can it overcome the fact that any right-minded individual will now distrust the brand to keep their secrets?

Acceptable risk

In our world now of ubiquitous Tweeting, Facebooking and data in the cloud, I reckon for many the hack won't make a jot of difference. They will continue to sign up in their millions and take their chances.

Once the acute coverage has died down, consumer irrationality will take over and they will conclude that Ashley Madison must have learnt its lesson and now be more secure and less hack prone. For lots of people, the power of the proposition will trump any brand distrust.

Of course, there is also the possibility that this could tank the brand. So I bet in the back rooms of Avid Media, the owners of Ashley Madison, they are already hatching a plan to rebrand and use the power of increased awareness of the proposition to launch afresh. Surely this contingency planning would only be sensible?

Criminal conscience

And finally what of the hackers? If you believe in their moral cause, then you should hope that they are pausing and thinking again about breaching the privacy of millions of not-so-innocent consumers. They may have the data but they don't need to expose it.

You might hope if you want to see the end of a platform for cheating that they should be planning a denial of service attack to stop the Ashley Madison service from actually working.

This would be a much better way to achieve their aims but I suspect that really they don't give a crap and just want to prove, yet again, that almost no IT system is hack-proof even those with the most salacious of personal information on them.

Whatever side you take, moral or marketing, and I hope you’ll share them here, there is no doubt that how you handle the worst of disaster situations, both looking for threat and opportunity, is in our hyper-connected world a must-do rather than a should-do activity for all marketers.

Justin Basini is co-founder and CEO at ClearScore

This article first appeared on marketingmagazine.co.uk.


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