Religion and modern matchmaking

onlinedatingI love finding religion stories in the sports pages and business pages of the newspaper. New York Times' reporter Douglas Quenqua had a great one this week about religious values and internet dating. Not too long ago I began seeing television commercials by Chemistry.com attacking the internet dating site eHarmony. The advertisements complain that eHarmony screens out people who aren't happy enough or whose morals are considered suspect. I would love to know how well that campaign is working because it seemed to me that in the murky world of internet dating, a bit of a litmus test might not turn customers away. Quenqua's story looks at the ad campaign's results as well as the transition of the ad campaign to print venues.

The online dating service Chemistry.com plans to unleash a new campaign that seeks to depict its older and larger competitor, eHarmony.com, as out of touch with mainstream American values. The ads, which will appear in weekly newspapers and magazines starting Monday, attack eHarmony for refusing to match people of the same gender and for the evangelical Christian beliefs of its founder, Dr. Neil Clark Warren.

It is not the first time that Chemistry.com has hit on this theme. In April, the service ran a set of ads called "Rejected by eHarmony" featuring people who were turned away from eHarmony for being gay, not happy enough or simply unmatchable by its system. Chemistry.com spent $20 million on that campaign, and the company plans to increase the budget for this new effort.

Although Chemistry.com has 3.7 million registered users, in contrast to eHarmony's 17 million, the "Rejected by eHarmony" campaign may be working. Since it was introduced, Chemistry.com has experienced an 80 percent growth rate, said Mandy Ginsburg, general manager of Chemistry.com. She said that enrollments by gays and lesbians have risen 200 percent since the "Rejected" campaign started, and that 10 percent of Chemistry.com's members are seeking a same-sex match.

I have two friends who married after meeting on Match.com, which is Chemistry.com's parent company. At least one of them chose Match over eHarmony precisely because they didn't want to use a service which wouldn't cater to homosexuals. I thought Quenqua looked at this story with a nice objective stance, letting facts and figures speak for themselves while also letting company spokesmen explain their philosophy.

Jody Petrie, an eHarmony spokeswoman, said the companies are fundamentally different. EHarmony markets itself as helping people find successful long-term relationships rather than people to date:

EHarmony, which is based in Pasadena, Calif., and was founded in 2000 by Dr. Warren, a clinical psychologist, has long been criticized for its practice of turning away applicants who are gay or lesbian, married or serially divorced. Dr. Warren, a former seminary student who has had several books published by Focus on the Family, an evangelical Christian group, has publicly voiced his belief that premarital sex can increase the likelihood of one's marrying the wrong person.

Ms. Petrie said that eHarmony took no position on premarital sex and had no affiliation with any religion. As for its reason for not offering services to gays or lesbians, she said: "EHarmony's matching system is based on psychological data collected from heterosexual married couples, and we have not offered a service for those seeking same-sex matches. Nothing precludes us from offering a same-sex service in the future, but it's not a service we offer now."

Quinqua explains that Chemistry.com is betting that enough consumers will prefer a company that reflects their values. Their campaign features, among other vignettes, a motel sign declaring "No premarital sex." The copy then explains that the company does not judge any moral code for its members. The reporter explains the company's approach of attacking eHarmony in great detail as well as eHarmony's contention that the advertising is inaccurate and negative and that Chemistry.com would be better served by improving its own product.

All in all, a nice straightforward business story.

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