eHarmony ‘Scientific’ Ad Banned by UK Advertising Standards Authority

An eHarmony advertisement has been banned in the UK after a regulator disputed its claim that it scientifically matched users.

The July advertisement, displayed on the London Underground, read “It’s time science had a go at love”.

The site also claimed that its “scientifically proven matching system decodes the mystery of compatibility and chemistry”, and that it is able to “stack the odds of finding lasting love entirely in your favour”.  

The website failed to provide the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) with sufficient evidence that its users were more likely to find love on the platform, however.

Lord Lipsey, the joint chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Statistics and a former ASA council member, filed the initial complaint.

His concern was that the phrase ‘scientifically proven’ should be reserved for claims that are supported by impartial empirical evidence.

He felt that the use of the phrase by eHarmony to describe its own algorithm was “crude puffery designed to lure in those longing for love”.

eHarmony have expressed respectful disagreement with the ruling, stating that their service tried to harness “science and research” to help people find love.

Its matching algorithm is designed by a team of PhD psychologists, and the company conducts research in its 2,000-square-foot on-site relationship lab.

A longform blog post from Chief Scientist Dr. Steve Carter provides a detailed response to general criticisms of eHarmony’s approach. It contains the following excerpt:

“The primary question we asked when developing eHarmony was whether the scientific study of married couples could lead to models which “predict” marital success. Before eHarmony launched, Dr. Neil Clark Warren (a clinical psychologist with over 35 years of experience in counseling couples) collaborated with a group of researchers for almost three years collecting data on nearly five thousand married couples, looking at their core personality traits and key values.  This data, along with a measure of marital satisfaction, was analyzed to see if the levels and similarities within and between married individuals could predict the level of marital quality. This empirical research resulted in statistical models which were then associated with cut-off thresholds for scores that indicated a high probability of being in a successful relationship if married. These models and rules became the compatibility algorithms which eHarmony used to predict which singles should be presented to each other as matches.”

The Advertising Standards Authority, in concordance with Lord Lipsey, concluded that consumers would take the statement “scientifically proven matching system” to mean that peer-reviewed studies had found that eHarmony users had a significantly greater chance of finding lasting love. Part of its ruling states:

“We noted the largest number of respondents who met through online dating had met on eHarmony; however, the figure was not higher than other general online and offline sources such as respondents who had met through online social networks, at work, through friends or in a bar/club. In any case, we considered that the number of couples in one sample who had met through eHarmony would not in itself constitute proof that the website provided a greater chance of finding lasting love. We also noted that while the website had a lower percentage of marital break-ups than other dating websites, it had a higher percentage of marital break-ups compared to those who had met through email, online communities and through messages on blogs.”

The regulator took the following action:

“The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told eHarmony to remove the claim ‘scientifically proven matching system’ and not to use similar claims with the same meaning, unless they had adequate evidence that their website offered users a significantly greater chance of finding lasting love than what could be achieved if they didn’t use the service.”

Read more here.