CASE LEARNING: Selling Adultery
Ivey Business Journal
A year after a massive data breach at its Ashley Madison adultery service, Avid Life Media relaunched in 2016 under a new name. The move was designed to help the business recover from the hacker attack that had exposed its security and governance issues and dashed the desire of investors to take the company public. It was also a strategic step to regain the trust of customers who had been outed as would-be cheaters. Now known as Ruby, the company has new leadership, and Ashley Madison has dropped the tagline “Life Is Short. Have an Affair.” and replaced it with “Find Your Moment.” While announcing these moves, the CEO assured wedding-vow breakers that the controversial business intended to remain “true to our roots.”
Ultimately, a business founded to help people deceive their partners will have a fraught reputation regardless of the parent company’s name. That’s why Ashley Madison is a case study that keeps on giving. Long before a hacker group exposed the personal information of millions of Ashley Madison members, we developed an Ivey case study based on Avid Life’s first attempt to go public in 2010. Back then, the business’s controversial nature and aggressive founder were seen as free publicity. Further, the company was considered well-run and profitable. Yet Avid Life failed to attract investment in 2010, which raised issues about the function of businesses, e.g., the shareholder perspective versus the stakeholder perspective. Boardrooms still debate how best to balance the duty to generate returns for shareholders with growing public expectations of corporate social responsibility. To help understand the reputational issues involved, there is perhaps no better case than the jilting of Ashley Madison by investment bankers, who are not typically seen as the moral compass of society.
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