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Stephen Logan

Beautifulpeople.com: A Brand Built on Negative PR and Exclusivity

20th Jun 2011 News, Industry News 2 minutes to read

If you want to get your brand seen, you have to make it happen. One publicity stunt is never enough, certainly not if you’re looking to embed yourself in the psyche of society. Businesses have been built and torn down as the result of PR; if you’re not visible then you’re not doing your job.

Beautifulpeople.com is a fantastic example of how any publicity can be good publicity. Almost by definition, the invite-only dating site is going to court controversy. Some might see it as vulgar superficiality, others a dastardly way of exploiting the press and widespread ignorance.

Looking at it objectively, Beautifulpeople is a strange premise based on a dodgy business model. It’s a pretty specific niche and one that isn’t easily definable – what is true beauty after all? Plus, it is the members themselves that get to vote on who is included; therefore many of its potential customers will be waved away before they even get to spend a penny.

On the flipside, as long as they can create interest, they will always attract consumer intrigue – particularly in a market as competitive and popular as online dating. By developing an elitist persona, envious onlookers are more likely to want to sign up and find out if they’re ‘beautiful’. Therefore, what might be described as bad PR to most businesses, could actually work in favour of Beautifulpeople.com.

Today we have seen another great example of this, with 30,000 people thrown off following the (not at all deliberate) ‘Shrek virus’. The site was apparently attacked, allowing anybody to gain access and sign up. Inevitably, this led to a number of undesirables slipping through the net.

It’s the kind of story that catches the attention. Literally thousands of people being told they’re too ugly for the site. However these embers of interest have been doused in fuel by the ever-respectful Managing Director Greg Hodge.

In an interview with the Guardian, Hodge employed great tact when suggesting that you “can’t just sweep 30,000 ugly people under the carpet.” Uproar ensues, hundreds of comments follow and the column inches increase. Moral indignation is a great tool, particularly for an ‘exclusive club’.

If you want further proof that negative PR is good for business, look no further than Ryanair. The budget airline isn’t shy at courting controversy. Its enigmatic chairman, Michael O’Leary is usually good for a sound bite or two when discussing industry issues. Plus they aren’t adverse to creating their own hype, conjuring up new charges for toilet use and removing a pilot or two. But have their profits suffered as a result? Absolutely not, in fact they continue to improve year on year.

Beautifulpeople appears to be in the same mould.  It might be a treacherous path on which they tread, but it is one that is likely to prove more valuable in the long run. Fortunately the Internet provides the perfect incubation like environment for continued growth and distribution of PR and popularity. Looking at the backlinks coming from major websites and blogs, their SEO is certainly not suffering as a result of a few adverse reviews.

Last year they threw 5,000 off the site for gaining weight over Christmas and my guess would be that there will be a similar story in the next years or so. They provide the bait, we jump on it. Whilst the message that these kinds of sites send out is deplorable, it’s a business model that works and will continue flourishing as long as people continue to find it interesting. Shameful, but ultimately unavoidable.

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