Dating site eHarmony has been forced to rip up an outdoor ad campaign which claimed that its matching system was “scientifically proven” after it failed to provide sufficient evidence that its data algorithm offered customers a significantly greater chance of finding lasting love.
The campaign which ran on London Underground was emblazoned with the strapline: “Step aside, fate. It’s time science had a go at love.” It then added: “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?”
However, a single complaint lodged by Lord Lipsey, the joint chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Statistics and a former lay member of the Advertising Standards Authority triggered an ASA investigation.
In its defence, eHarmony insisted it used a highly sophisticated data algorithm, based on scientific theories in the relationship literature of assortative mating that required users to complete lengthy questionnaires to determine their personality traits, values, interests and other factors.
Users were then matched to other individuals whose responses complemented their own preferences and matched a specific percentage of a list of personality factors that eHarmony determined to be vital in successfully matching people.
It said the algorithm was based on data collected from more than 50,000 married couples in 23 countries, resulting in statistical models which were associated with cut-off thresholds for scores that indicated a high probability of successful relationships if married.
The firm also submitted a granted patent for its algorithm to the ASA and provided a copy of two published studies which it claimed reported higher levels of marital satisfaction for couples who met through eHarmony than any other offline or online source.
eHarmony argued that consumers would interpret the ad to mean that its scientific approach could potentially work for them, and not that it would guarantee they would find lasting love or make connections.
However, the ASA found the site could offer no evidence customers stood a significantly greater chance of finding lasting love, and branded eHarmony’s claims “misleading”.
In its ruling the watchdog stated: “We considered that consumers would interpret the claim ‘scientifically proven matching system’ to mean that scientific studies had demonstrated 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.
“We 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 sources. Therefore, neither study provided insight into the likelihood of the website finding users lasting love compared to users who did not use the service.”
Concluding that the claim “scientifically proven matching system” was misleading, the watchdog banned the ad from appearing again in its current form and told eHarmony not to use similar claims without adequate evidence.
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