NEW YORK - Online dating site Match.com is enlisting a celebrity stylist to advise camera-shy singles how to build a hip, sexy Web portrait of themselves to better woo prospective partners.
In its biggest marketing campaign since starting up 11 years ago, Match hopes the tips in self-advertising will reassure reticent singles that they won't look foolish when using a more public forum like the internet to win dates.
"With this campaign, we're working to overcome the personal stigma which some people might have ... (who think) 'It's fine that my friends are on Match, but I would never do it'," Chief Executive Jim Safka told Reuters.
Match.com is an important growth segment for parent company IAC/InterActiveCorp, Barry Diller's internet conglomerate, where revenue from personals grew 22 per cent to US$80 ($115.70) million in the third quarter.
Internet dating in the United States has grown into a business totalling more than US$500 million annually, but some analysts question how strong it may rise in the future.
Web chat rooms abound with stories about online dating failures as well as successes, and some disillusioned singles have turned to old-fashioned matchmaking services.
For their part, internet dating sites have invested in technologies to better match potential partners based on stated interests and beliefs as well as to root out false or outdated portraits.
But Safka believes a key to gaining new members is helping them find their voice online, whether to unleash their inner rock star or lyric poet in a Web portrait.
"People are much more interesting and much more dynamic and appealing than their portraits and profiles often show," he said. "That's really the bigger issue. The people who have older photos or misrepresent themselves in some way, they are not successful on Match."
Previous industry marketing campaigns have often focused on proving that Web dating can be successful, with pictures of happily married online couples galore. Match.com's advertising spotlights 26 still-single members in television, radio, print and online commercials that begin on Tuesday.
Fashion photographer Peggy Sirota captured the smiling and upbeat singletons, some in their 20s, others in their late 60s, in black-and-white shots for the ads.
Celebrity stylist Jay Manuel, known for appearances on "America's Next Top Model," gives a crash course on Match's website to help amateurs find their best camera angle and most flattering expression.
His tips for bringing out one's inner super-model: Take your photo using a camera flash and a naturally lit room; black clothing is often best for a head shot; and try using an indoor fan to capture a tousled, dynamic image.
For 2007, Safka sees internet dating becoming a more globally connected business and a more consolidated industry, particularly for niche sites that cater to ethnic groups or specific communities.
"There are probably thousands of sites out there," he said. "There won't be thousands that will be successful, so it will be important for them to partner up with bigger sites."