They Met Online, but Definitely Didn't Click
Sunday, May 13, 2007; Page D01
You think the dating scene can be cold and unforgiving? It may not be half as frosty as the tempestuous relationship between two of the biggest players in the online dating business.
A name-calling catfight, complete with accusations and counter-accusations, has broken out between eHarmony.com and an offshoot of Match.com over a subject familiar to any luckless dater:
In its latest ad campaign, online matchmaker Chemistry.com shows no love for eHarmony.com, its older and larger competitor. Chemistry's TV commercials and magazine ads feature young men and women wondering why their applications to join eHarmony were turned down.
"I mean, I am a good person. Right?" asks an actress in one of the TV spots, as a giant red "Rejected by eHarmony" graphic slams onto the screen. The ads note that eHarmony has rejected more than one million people who are "looking for love."
No fair, says eHarmony, concerned that its rival's ads suggest that eHarmony is being arbitrary -- or worse, racially and religiously discriminatory -- in turning people away. It wants Chemistry.com's ads changed or dropped.
To that end, the company's outside legal counsel, Lanny J. Davis (who spun the media for President Bill Clinton during his "relationship problems" with Monica Lewinsky), last week asked NBC and People magazine to stop running Chemistry.com's current ads, or at least insist on some fine-print qualifiers about what "1 million rejected" really means. (As of Friday, NBC hadn't responded to Davis; People magazine said that it wasn't taking sides in the feud and that it would continue running the ads.)
The complaint offers a glimpse into the online dating world, which has grown in just a few years into a big-money business, with tens of millions of participants and only a few major players.
EHarmony, which is privately owned and is based in Pasadena, Calif., says that more than 13 million people have signed up for memberships since its inception in 2000. Dallas-based Chemistry.com, founded last year, is a fast-growing upstart that says 2 million people have used its service. It is part of IAC/Interactive Corp., Barry Diller's conglomerate, which had $6 billion in sales last year and which also owns dating industry leader Match.com, as well as Ticketmaster, HSN (formerly Home Shopping Network) and the search engine Ask.com.
Although some specialized services, such as the Jewish-oriented J Date, seek people from particular backgrounds, general services such as Match, Yahoo! Personals and Chemistry are open to almost all adults who apply and pay a monthly fee.
EHarmony -- founded by a clinical psychologist named Neil Clark Warren, who appears in many of the company's ads -- is more selective. The company acknowledges that it routinely rejects certain types of people.
EHarmony, in fact, says that it has rejected about a million people since its inception. But the company insists that the reasons aren't arbitrary, that it has never collected any fees from those it rejected, and that Chemistry is trying to suggest otherwise.