The well-known dating websites PlentyofFish.com and True.com are being sued for using someone’s image in the marketing messages used to promote their sites without permission. Although the practice of using images belonging to others with their consent takes place every day on the Internet, it’s the context here that has turned with issue into a PR nightmare for these leading dating brands. The image they used in their promotional material was that of Army Lt. Peter Burks, who was killed in Iraq in 2007.
The photo used was taken from the non-profit website, the Unsung Hero Fund, created by the family of Lt. Burks. The charity was started soon after Peter Burks’ death and sends care packages to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Allegedly the dating sites had an advertisement that displayed Lt. Burks’s photo with the headline “military man searching for love.” Both sites stated that they have taken action to deal with the matter.
While I’m sure this issue will blow over and will not hurt either brand in the long run, I believe there’s something to be learned from this incident. Many dating sites use photos in their promotional messaging to show potential customers a ‘sampling’ of the types of singles they can meet on their sites. From a marketing standpoint, this seems like a logical technique since people want to know who they can expect to meet once they sign up for a dating site subscription. But as a customer, once I see a photo of someone that catches my eye who I can meet on a particular dating site, I might be inclined to sign up and search for that person. So if marketers place photos of people that are not real customers and are nowhere to be found on their sites, it’s deceptive to consumers. The fact that in the case of Lt. Burks it was allegedly done with a fallen war hero obviously makes it all that much worse. But either way, it’s wrong.
I hope all the dating sites out there learned a lesson from this incident and will check to make sure that images of users they claim are their members are indeed active members. But as consumers we must be aware that deceptive advertising is alive and well, so let’s all exercise a bit of caution when responding to marketing messages.