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Is That a Real Profile or a Company Package?

November 22, 2007 By:
Roy S. Gutterman, JE Feature
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Now that shopping season has officially set in and T.V. stations have aired the requisite video of the madcap "Day After Thanksgiving" stampede of shoppers tripping over each other at 5 a.m. to buy overpriced junk they don't need, life can return to normal.

It turns out that the second-biggest shopping day is the Monday after Thanksgiving, which the National Retail Federation started calling "Cyber Monday."

This year, the NRF -- the world's largest trade group for retailers -- predicted that 72 million Americans would log on to their computers the first Monday after Thanksgiving. The federation estimated that 31.9 percent of adults would do some online shopping that day. Last year, it was 27.2 percent.

In the shopping industry, Cyber Monday is almost as big as the traditional Black Friday. But in the world of online or Internet dating, every week has its own Cyber Monday. That means that after a weekend of unsatisfying social engagements and unfulfilled expectations, cyberdaters go right back to the store.

Traffic on popular online-dating Web sites increases on Mondays. After logging on, JDate reports how many users are on the site at that given moment. Typically, there are more on Mondays and Sundays than any other day of the week.

My anecdotal experience and observations were confirmed by Gail Laguna, the spokeswoman for Sparknetworks, the company that owns JDate and 30 other online-dating Web sites.

"We don't' really have any hard-and-fast data," she admitted. "Friday and Saturday are big date nights, and on Mondays, people are back at work, checking their In box."

Thus, we are left to hypothesize why Monday is the heaviest day for JDate traffic. According to Laguna, Sunday runs a close second.

Bad dates on Saturday night aside, people seem to have the get-up-and-go it takes to go back to the drawing board and surf the Web on Monday morning.

"A lot of people look like they are working when they're online," said Laguna, adding that she's heard of companies blocking sites from their computer servers to preserve productivity.

Laguna would not offer specific data on the how much busier the JDate site is on Mondays, saying, "at this time, we'd like to keep that data confidential."

The Bottom Line
Confidential? When I revved up the computer on a recent Sunday, there were a few more than 24,000 people logged on, which is several thousand more than a typical time and day.

Business is business, and the online dating business is a big one. With 72,000 paid subscribers looking for love on JDate, users have to remember the $34.95 per month is not going into a matchmaker's pocketbook -- along with partially used tissues and individually wrapped hard candies -- but the coffers of a large, publicly traded corporation.

JDate, which as first went online in 1997 as Sparknetworks' first dating site, accounts more than one-third of the company's subscriber base.

Subscribers mean money, and money means profits. The company, which trades on the American Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol LOV, posted $68.9 million in revenue in 2006, with a net income of $6.6 million (or 21 cents per share), according to Sparknetworks' corporate-investment profile.

Like any successful business, especially a computer-based one, companies can track reams of data voluntarily offered by their clientele. Subscriber demographics and behavior can be used for a variety of operations, including selling ads, which more and more companies are experimenting with online business.

Over the summer, Comedy Central bought advertising space on JDate promoting "It-girl" of female raunchy comedy and Jewish heartthrob Sarah Silverman.

The advertisement -- using a very real-looking but phony profile, complete with three pictures of Silverman and even essays -- was intended to promote the new season of her show on the network. It was not immediately clear this was even an ad until a day or two later, when the label was moved up to the top.

In its first week up, the phony profile generated a whopping 1,300 e-mail messages, according to Laguna. Perhaps guys around the world thought that maybe they had a real chance to date this celebrity -- maybe she had finally ditched her slovenly, frat-boy humor comedian-boyfriend Jimmy Kimmel and entered the online scene.

Though Silverman didn't actually receive the messages, Laguna reported that they "ran the gamut," ranging from compliments about her television show or comedy act to the predictable "Do I have any chance of a date?"

Each note received an automated response, which Laguna described as "gracious." If it was in Silverman's voice, it would probably also include some sort of profane insult that could not be printed here.

A year earlier, Comedy Central ran a similar campaign with comedienne Kathy Griffin.

Targeting potential customers through realistic online dating profiles is mildly manipulative. For a long time, advertising on Web sites such as JDate was limited. But companies are looking for more direct ways to attract a specific demographic.

"JDate members are more highly educated, more professional," stated Laguna. "We have an attractive demographic for advertisers."

In the search for romance, it's rough to be jarred back to reality -- to remember that these venues are still part of big business. Then again, isn't everything?

Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. To contact him, visit: www.Lrev.com.

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