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eHarmony Commercial is e-Tasteless

When did ‘Making Out’ Become a “Dimension of Compatibility”?

Have you seen the new eHarmony commercial where a man and woman are celebrating their 10th anniversary by making out on a sofa? eHarmony founder Neil Clark Warren is seen at the party in the commercial by drinking some champagne. As I read it, eHarmony is trying to say that a successful match can lead to such behavior. I object to the making out scene. It is tasteless especially from a match website that purports to match people based on "29 Dimensions of Compatibility." Is making out on the sofa one of these Dimensions, I wonder? The message is the couple get together through eHarmony for the love-making and not for the bold, scientific approach to matching.

eHarmony has been criticized for other advertisements. For example, eHarmony hired Limp Bizkit front man Fred Durst in an eHarmony advertisement online. The dating company hired him to make a commercial back in May in a bid to appeal to a wider audience. Dating site eHarmony is apparently trying to shift its image of being a bit boring by hiring Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst to direct its latest TV advertisement in the U.S. Some have objected to the ad because it targets a younger crowd. The company confirmed using the ad by tweeting a picture of eHarmony CEO Neil Clark Warren with Durst.

eHarmony has been a trailblazer in online matching. It opened the doors to many more matching services and should be credited for its innovation. However, some of its claims seem unrealistic and, without transparency, I am reluctant to believe its claims including to be the catalyst for 5 percent of all new marriages in the U.S. Also, the company reports that 542 people wed every day because of the site.

Founder Neil Clark Warren Warren has also come under a fair amount of criticism over the years, particularly when it comes to his company’s stance on gay relationships. After battling numerous lawsuits over eHarmony’s refusal to match homosexuals and a 2008 lawsuit over the failure to match gays, the company settled with New Jersey’s Civil Rights Division and agreed to launch Compatible Partners, a separate web site aimed at serving same-sex clientele; this service launched in 2009.

It seems to me that by starting a separate matching service for gays and lesbians, Warren is signaling that somehow these matches are different from matching straights. This is demeaning for gays and lesbians, I believe. Why not just include a question for all potential matches to answer: “Are you gay or lesbian” and treat it as one of the Dimensions of Compatibility rather than signal out one group for special treatment?

Warren found himself needing to create the gay-themed companion web site in order to stay in business in New Jersey, raising new criticisms from religious people who disagreed with eHarmony’s decision to comply with government demands. “When the attorney general of the state of New Jersey decided that we had to put up a same-sex site and we did it out of counsel that if we didn’t do it we were not going to have any business in New Jersey — we literally had to hire guards to protect our lives because the people were so hurt and angry with us, were Christian people, who feel that it’s a violation to scripture,” Warren said.

Now we find out that eHarmony plans to launch a new service that will pair job-seekers with their ideal boss using the same process it uses to match people looking for their soul mate. Warren stated in an interview with Neil Cavuto of FOX News that “We have a basic problem. And that is, we have spent over a billion dollars on advertising. We have only one product. We're pretty good at matching. We think we can take that matching to the employment area. And we can help people find the job they will really fit with. And we do that on the basis of getting them to the right culture, the culture that fits with them, and getting them through the organization chart to the right boss who can really match up with them.

And we think over time, we will be as successful with employment as we are with matching for marriage.”

This is a ridiculous notion. The culture of an organization defines what it stands for but can only be deemed valid based on how it deals with events as they unfold and meet challenges that occur. In other words, to really know the culture of an organization we have to observe it in action. How does it react to conflicts and crises, for example? How in the world can eHarmony make those determinations? You can’t search a website of an organization and make a conclusion about its culture and I doubt someone in the organization would respond to questions about culture for a job-seeking matching service.

The bottom line is eHarmony is under increasing pressure from other sites such as Match and Christian Mingle. In my opinion it is the success of the competition that has motivated Warren to stretch the boundaries of reasonableness in its commercials and making claims that seem doubtful at best. The ethical “Dimension of Compatibility” gets lost in the fog of trying to keep up with the competition.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on August 12, 2014. Dr. Mintz is a professor in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at

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