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(Gustavo Rosa)
(Gustavo Rosa)

TTC rejects streetcar ad promoting infidelity Add to ...

Life is short. So was this affair.

It took about a day for an infidelity-promoting ad to go from what philandering website AshleyMadison.com thought was a done deal to the dustbin of streetcar advertising when the Toronto Transit Commission rejected it Friday.

The Red Rocket is no place to encourage extramarital liaisons, the transit commission's advertising committee decided.

The eye-catching wraparound streetcar ad, with oversized white print on a mauve background, reads "Life is short. Have an affair." It directs viewers to the company's website, whose featured package guarantees "an affair to remember" in three months or your $249 back.

The ad doesn't jive with taste or community standards criteria for public transit ads, said councillor and committee member Suzan Hall.

"What individuals choose to do is what individuals choose to do, but as far as the TTC is concerned, I am never going to support that we promote infidelity."

TTC staff referred the ad to the committee on Thursday, which is customary practice for anything they think might be problematic. Since AshleyMadison.com sent out press releases announcing the ad this week, "e-mails are coming in hot and heavy" in response, Ms. Hall said - none of them positive.

"There hasn't been a single person e-mailing in to say they're in support of this."

But AshleyMadison.com CEO Noel Biderman says the Toronto-based company, which boasts almost five million members on its site, is just trying to promote its brand.

"I think there's these notions out there that people think of infidelity as quote-unquote 'wrong,' as quote-unquote 'immoral,' " he said. "In this day and age, and in this era, creating those morality judgments is not equivalent to a tolerant society."

On Friday, in the face of growing certainty his ad would be rejected, he offered to "sweeten the pot" by subsidizing all riders on the "Affair Line" - paying 50 cents of what will be a $3 cash fare come Jan. 3. But city staff say that doesn't change anything, as the decision is based on ad content rather than revenue.

"I think the councillors probably spend too much time in committee meetings and not enough time talking to the people who use the TTC day in, day out," Mr. Biderman said. "I'm sure those people would much rather see a reduction in fare."

The rejection is something of a déjà vu for AshleyMadison.com: The company had its Super Bowl ads pulled, and a billboard in New York City's Times Square, depicting a blurry, half-naked couple in what looks like a hotel room, was removed just a day after it was erected.

But Mr. Biderman said they'd hoped this time it would be different: E-mails apparently from CBS Outdoor, the company that handles all TTC advertising, had told AshleyMadison.com as late as Thursday the ad had been approved by the city's advertising review committee.

CBS Outdoor declined to comment Friday.

This isn't the first time TTC advertising has proven controversial: In April the transit commission demanded Virgin Radio pull ads depicting a radio preparing to commit suicide by jumping onto subway tracks; in January, atheist bus ads stating, "There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" were ultimately allowed to stay after coming under fire from religious groups.

TTC advertising committee chair Anthony Peruzza said he'd be willing to consider allowing AshleyMadison.com to advertise on transit vehicles if the company comes forward with something less ostentatious. "If it were something that wasn't as in-your-face, wasn't as blatant, wasn't as direct, I don't know maybe used different imaging, then who knows?"

Although jaded Torontonians don't bat an eye when confronted with sweat-bathed Calvin Klein models or Virgin Mobile users making out with angels, University of Toronto sociologist Adam Green said, the furor surrounding the AshleyMadison.com ads gets to the heart of society's continued anxieties around marriage and fidelity.

"It's a violation of the institution of marriage," he said, adding that the number of people who think infidelity is wrong has actually increased significantly in the past 20 years.

"[AshleyMadison.com ads]elicit a lot of anxiety in people, and outrage. You know: 'Have we just gone too far?' What some people forget is although we live in this urban post-modern society of Toronto, we at the same time have an enduring romantic tradition we draw from, particularly when it comes to marriage."

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