It’s commonly expected that the journey to true love will be sprinkled with deception, but the British ad industry’s self-regulatory watchdog doesn’t believe that should include billboards. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a London Underground eHarmony ad for misleading passersby that the dating service was grounded in scientific proof.
The ad in question read, “Step aside, fate. It’s time science had a go at love.” It also stated the following, according to a complaint filed with ASA: “Imagine being able to stack the odds of finding lasting love entirely in your favour. eHarmony’s scientifically proven matching system decodes the mystery of compatibility and chemistry so you don’t have to. Why leave the most important search of your life to chance?. Try something different today. Join eharmony.co.uk”.
The issue, according to the ASA, was not that it believed people would think eHarmony could promise them lasting love, but rather that they would misconstrue the ad’s “scientifically proven matching system” claim, believing “that the website offered users a significantly greater chance of finding lasting love than what could be achieved if they didn’t use the service.”
In response to the complaint, eHarmony UK argued “that the ad did not make any specific claims except that their matching system was scientific and could therefore provide an advantage in finding a compatible partner over a purely chance-based system or meeting.” The dating website also provided the ASA with details on how its algorithm worked as well as two published studies to support its defense.
eHarmony told ASA that it collects data “from more than 50,000 married couples in 23 different countries, which looked at their core personality traits and key values” and claimed that its algorithm, which the company has been a granted patent for, “was based on scientific theories in the relationship literature of assortative mating.” The company’s chief scientist Steve Carter has even gone as far as to call the matchmaking service a type of “social engineering.”
“It’s absolutely social engineering,” Carter told The Telegraph in May of last year. “If you look at a problem in society, and you say I’m going to create a tool to lessen that, then that is exactly what eHarmony was, it was an attempt to reduce the rate at which people were unhappy in relationships.”
As for the studies, both included questionnaires completed by respondents who met on the platform. Neither were accepted as burdens of proof. “We further considered that both studies did not reveal anything about the percentage of the overall users of eHarmony who had found lasting love after using the website compared to other source,” the ASA’s ruling reads.
Because eHarmony wasn’t able to convince the regulators that its “scientifically proven matching system” claim is not, in fact, misleading, all ads including the claim or anything like it are banned, unless proven otherwise. We have reached out to eHarmony for comment and will update this post if we hear back. In the meantime, finding your soulmate hinges on destiny and an algorithm.