*When Moral Meets Online Advertising Business: Cougars, Sugar Daddies and Yummy Mummies

Mashable today reported about the adult-online-dating website Cougar Life which had been found ‘not suitable for families‘ by Google and thus barred from advertising through Google’s network.

The facts:

The website apparently successfully modified the ‘sugar daddy’ principle of facilitating the contact of wealthy old men and young woman, as the website is addressing women  in their PRIME: independent, sexy and wildly successful. […] Cougars are classy, confident women that already possess many of the finer things in life — but now want the young, hot guy to go with it.”

As a Google spokeswoman (surprised?)  explained to the National Post the classification of Cougar Life ads as for-adults-only was “not just about the ad, it’s about the ad and the landing page of the site[…] Anything that’s considered non-family safe will not run on the Google content network at this point.

The background:

Without even daring to go into a discussion about moral and obviously double standards, I’d like to continue with a quote by  Sergey Brin:

“[W]e don’t accept ads for hard liquor, but we accept ads for wine. It’s just a personal preference. We don’t allow gun ads, and the gun lobby got upset about that. We don’t try to put our sense of ethics into the search results, but we do when it comes to advertising.

.The idea of applying a minimum standard of ethics to business is generally welcomed. (For a list of goods and service Google won’t accept advertisement please see: Adword’s Advertising Policies for ads on its search engine, or Adsense’s Content Guidelines for ads on Google’s advertising network).

Excepert from Google AdSense Programme Policies

Every decision however has its up- and its downside. The upside of Google ethics might be that people are not exposed to ads on Google for drugs, weapons and magical cures. The downside however is that some advertisers and entrepreneurs (e.g. companies in Slovenia which have specialised in the production of high quality absinthe) are restricted in their abilities to successfully advertise their product.

What makes the whole thing even more delicate is that Google’s market share is impressive and the fact that someone is not allowed to advertise on Google could be seen as being banned from advertising on the internet at all. Worse than that, trying to discuss the issue with Google appears not to be overly promising. More or less, once Google has decided not to accept the ads for a certain product, the advertiser is stuck.

I’ve already reported about how ads launched to highlight the fact that a  state senator in Indiana had received money from a big corporation were taken down by Google after that corporation (hint: see graphic) successfully filed a trademark complaint with Google. In my post I went on to discuss whether or not the decision by Google to accept or not accept an ad might infringe the Freedom of Speech (for examples on this issue please click here)


Interestingly enough I noticed while doing some research for this post that the Page Rank of the Cougar’s website is only ‘2‘, which is a surprisingly low figure for a commercial website.

However, doing a picture search for the search term ‘cougar life‘ made not only my face blush, as I was sitting in a public institution, but also may be the key to the whole issue.

Apparently the term ‘cougar‘ has become a generic term/synonym for an independent, sexy and wildly successful woman in her thirties. In the same way a trademark loses its protection when becoming a generic term (a ‘Post It‘) and thus trademark owner are fighting anyone who e.g. want to add the term ‘to google‘ a dictionary, it looks like the term ‘cougar‘ has effectively become a synonym for a certain kind of erotic content. (If you don’t believe me, try it as a search term on YouTube but don’t forget to switch off the ‘Save Search’ option).

Keeping this in mind it becomes a bit clearer why the Google spokeswoman might have mentioned that Google has a list of words which trigger a review of the site and the ads before a decision as to whether the ad is considered suitable for families or not is made. This might also explain why ads for other dating sites 15,000 sexy Russian & Ukraine women for friendship, love & marriage! are still up and running, while Cougar’s aren’t.

So in a nutshell, it isn’t indeed the content of the Cougar Life website that may have triggered its ban but the fact that the term ‘cougar‘ itself, in relation to humans, has become a synonym for nothing but a specific kind of erotic content. This however might also a bit a fault of the website host, as she obviously failed to stay clear off the thin line between Online-dating-services and erotic content, as she herself has referred to her customers as Yummy Mummies‘. (If you don’t know what the term means, congratulations, that’s definitely a sign of a good upbringing) 😉

5 Responses to “*When Moral Meets Online Advertising Business: Cougars, Sugar Daddies and Yummy Mummies”

  1. 1 Christina 15/05/2010 at 17:56

    I’d say that the reason for our double standard regarding “cougars” and “sugar daddies” would be the perfomative understanding of female sexuality within our culture. If a woman – even an independent, successful, older woman – is looking for sex, she has to sell more than her independence or success – she has to show off her good looks as well. Hence, the flood of photos to make Austrotrabant blush on Google. On the other hand, nobody’s interested in seeing a sugar daddy naked – if fact most people would rather not, the difference being however that even bad looks are considered social acceptable and irrelevant to his dating success. Society is convinced that all men want from women is hotness and all women want from men is money and power… Unfair to both sexes if you want my opinion.

    For a full list of (tongue in cheek) female feline metaphors take a look here: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2009/12/04/know-your-female-feline-metaphors/

  2. 2 Birgit 15/05/2010 at 22:36

    I wonder what kind of search triggered the “….ads for other dating sites ‘15,000 sexy Russian & Ukraine women for friendship, love & marriage!‘”? 😉

  3. 3 austrotrabant 19/05/2010 at 17:51


    NYT 14/052010: …the advertising department [of CougarLife.com]was told in an e-mail message from its Google representative that “the policy is focused particularly around the concept of ‘cougar dating’ as a whole,” and asked if the company would be open to changing “the ‘cougar’ theme/language specifically (including the domain if necessary).


  1. 1 *Chinese Search Engine Baidu Alleged of Promoting Counterfeit Drugs « Austrotrabant's Blog Trackback on 20/07/2010 at 10:13
  2. 2 *’Instant Preview’ – One More ‘Instant’ Function On Google « Austrotrabant's Blog Trackback on 11/11/2010 at 08:08

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