For those not familiar – the Ashley Madison Agency is an online ‘dating’ website for married people looking to set up an affair. The site is getting a whole lot more publicity, but its ads are the ones getting some controversy.

With blunt tag lines and slogans saying “Life’s short, have an affair” and “When monogamy becomes monotony“, you’ve gotta give these guys credit for having the balls to put this out there. But obviously the site wouldn’t still be in business (since 2002) with over 2.2 million currently active members, if there wasn’t some demand for their services. (further analysis and VIDEO after the jump)

The site allows users to sign up and create profiles as a ‘Guest Member’ for free. Guest members can send out ‘winks’ (similar to Facebook ‘pokes’) and reply to any incoming messages or requests they receive.

The real money-making side of the business comes into play when Guest Members are enticed to upgrade to Full Member status. This requires a $49 charge to a credit card. Additionally, users can purchase 100 credits for $55. With these credits you can buy direct instant message time and other such perks to more directly connect with potential cheaters. You can cyber to your heart’s desire or shoot off a quick ‘cum to da housz now!’ message as soon as your dearly beloved leaves for the office.

The draw of the site is that it puts a whole bunch of unhappily married men and women together in one place so they can discreetly seek each other out. According to the FAQ page on the site, there are also single people with profiles on Ashley Madison looking to meet and hook-up with married people. The thrill of the homewrecker, I guess? Things are a little more difficult for the singles because they don’t have the same ‘can’t get caught, we’re in this together’ mentality that married cheaters have.

Seems like a popular site, right? Unfortunately the ratio of men to women on the site is something like 9 to 1 BUT when you count out all those guys who signed up and don’t remain active, that figure is supposedly more like 1 TO 1 (so says the FAQ page).

So now let’s take a look at the marketing side of the Ashley Madison Agency. Here’s an example of one of their older more ‘late-night’ crowd (sex hotline style) commercials from 2005:

Ashley Madison Cheat On Your Wife Ad – Watch more free videos

Low budget and sexy, but doesn’t seem very mainstream, right?

Well now check out one of their newer commercial spots which they were hoping to continue to plaster all over ESPN and CNN:

Again, a lot more mainstream and ‘socially acceptable’ for daytime/primetime television. But not so fast, ESPN (and their Disney overlords) put the lid on these Ashley Madison ads recently amid a little controversy. You know the deal, family advocacy and morality groups threw a hissy fit and the whole thing went to crap.

Truthfully, it seems like Ashley Madison got a bit of a raw deal, but their company president Noel Biderman (think he cheats on his wife?) isn’t really helping their case by going against beer as an analogy. From an ABC News report:

Biderman said he felt that “a double standard” had been applied to his company with respect to advertising.

He said ESPN is “inundated” with advertisements for alcohol, a product “responsible for health issues and ultimately death.”

“Somehow I’m immoral and everything else is OK,” he said.

Nice try, dude, but you don’t mess with beer on ESPN, everyone knows that. So the new ‘funnier’ ads got pulled, but Ashley Madison is still going strong.

Have you used the site or know anyone who has? Do you think there is a big market for this kind of business model? Give us a shout in the comments section.

ABC: Extramarital Affair Ads Get Axed, August 4, 2008

Cheating Ways: Ashley Madison Review – Sex on the Side, 2007

Ashley Madison Agency: FAQ