All’s Fair in Matchmaking Wars

LOS ANGELES Perfectmatch.com is bucking a trend, moving marketing dollars toward broadcast media as it attempts to compete against better known competitors, according to company president and CEO Duane Dahl.

In fact, Dahl said he expects a 65-35 media split favoring television in the next two years, reversing the company’s current 65 percent bias in favor of online advertising.

“Online marketing is difficult because it’s hard to get above the clutter,” said Dahl. “We’re trying to maintain a 360-degree mentality.”

The company spent $5 million on ads last year and $1 million in the first quarter of 2006, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

With those expenditures, Perfectmatch lags far behind its more established rivals. Match.com, which recently introduced Dr. Phil as pitchman, in 2006 has already spent $28 million on ads after spending $50 million last year. Category leader eHarmony.com spent $35 million in the first quarter, putting it on pace to surpass its $85 million paid-media outlay last year.

Dahl said the company is developing commercials for gender-specific spot and cable buys. The creative is from independent Fusion Idea Lab in Chicago, with media duties handled by Aegis Group’s Carat in Los Angeles.

Up to this point, however, Perfectmatch has relied on somewhat unconventional tactics to broadcast its message to the masses.

The Bothell, Wash.-based upstart’s reputation was forged on a Dr. Phil episode that aired in February 2005, before Dr. Phil signed with Match.com. Perfectmatch secretly paired up audience members, and the broadcast netted the site 300,000 sign-ups, then 270,000 more after the rebroadcast four months later. (Dahl said the only hitch was the overwhelmingly female skew, based on the show’s demographics.)

Perfectmatch then orchestrated another publicity bonanza last year through the movie Must Love Dogs, a placement that involved no cash but leveraged the online site’s relationship with MSNBC, Lifetime and Loews.

Site traffic more than doubled, and the DVD release produced another measurable pop. Dahl said a similar deal was struck with Failure to Launch this year.