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Marketing The Unmarketable: The Adult Industry & Artful Advertising

29 August 2017
XXX Neon Sign | Marketing The Unmarketable: The Adult Industry & Artful Advertising | Neon

Disclaimer: Record Scratch [Freeze Frame] Yup, you’re probably wondering how we got here. A digital marketing agency, writing about the adult industry and Pornhub? Blasphemy! Well, the truth is, the x-rated industry has been a trailblazer in marketing and advertising since the dawn of digital. Don’t worry, this article and all the links are completely SFW (safe for work), so you needn’t worry about reading it in the workplace.

[The adult industry] is an industry where they exaggerate the size of everything.

David Klatell, Associate Dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

Naked capitalism is on a high, and whilst David Klatell’s quote may have rung true in the year 2001, the adult industry is now reported to be worth approximately $97 billion (Kassia Wosick, Assistant Professor of Sociology at New Mexico State University) – enough to feed 4.8 billion people a day. Despite global revenue dipping circa 2007, mostly owed to the amount of free material available on the web, the x-rated industry makes up 69% of pay-per-view internet content, and 1 in 5 mobile searches are for this adult material.

But just how do they do it? The truth is, the adult industry has benefited massively from a shift in general consensus and opinion worldwide. More so than ever, the public is craving authentic advertisements, and the younger audience is ostensibly more liberal than the generation before them. Nevertheless, the x-rated industry doesn’t have the luxury of being able to publicly showcase offerings on a pedestal. Imagine picking up your mail, opening your email inbox or loading up your Facebook newsfeed, only to see it littered with NSFW advertisements. How does a company that embodies and profits from one of society’s biggest taboos translate its adult content into something that entices people, whilst remaining on the good side of an increasingly woke society?

Pornhub, the largest x-rated site on the internet, receives some of the most impressive statistics. 91,980,225,000 videos viewed in 12 months. More than 60 million visits, per day. Over 4,599,000,000 hours of videos digested. 729 visitors per second aren’t down to just chance as Pornhub, over the last 10 years, has built its brand name up with tactical advertising, philanthropy and, in turn, has landed itself featured in popular culture – arguably blurring the lines of this already opaque industry when it comes to mainstream advertising.

Speaking to, Pornhub Vice President Corey Price notes, “For us, it’s really just about making ourselves visible in unexpected places. The goal with a lot of what we do is to make [the adult industry] a part of conversations that it typically hasn’t been, like we’ve done with music, fashion and philanthropy, for instance.

If you were faced with a client in the x-rated marketplace, would you know how to tackle it? Marketing in a regulated industry brings in extra steps. There are always these questions; will we receive legal approval? Will we be granted permission for this billboard? Are we going to be scrutinised by search engines? And, the big important question: will the general public receive it well? Laying the adult industry bare, this article will explore what it takes to market the unmarketable; proving that even the most obscure or challenging brands have the potential and capacity to cause a big stir using subtle, out-the-box tactics.

Give People What They Want

Using consumer data to market more effectively is a tale as old as time. People know what they like and, when you know what they like too, you can serve your product in a way that is enticing. Pornhub has unexpectedly become a leader in delivering data-driven pieces of content and campaigns, overcoming the potential shortfalls of incognito browsing and ad-blockers.

Running a successful micro-site, Pornhub Insights (SFW), has allowed the brand to demonstrate detailed research and analysis into current trends, geolocation preferences and drill down into segmenting its audience and understanding exactly what they like.

Pornhub Starwars Stats | Marketing The Unmarketable: The Adult Industry & Artful Advertising | Neon

Our data blog PornHub Insights has played a major part in this. We utilize our data and trends to make interesting SFW (safe for work) content that people love to read about and share. The media, and in turn our readers, have really responded well to it over the years, and it has been a great way for us to create conversations about our brand in a SFW and sharable way.

Pornhub Vice President, Corey Price.

As Corey said, speaking to DMN, the media are hungry for data – regardless of the industry. If it has numbers about your audience, as is presented in a report or infographic, it’s only a matter of time until the mainstream media and press catch-on. Numbers are a safe way to promote a brand, without having to explicitly divulge into the product offering; “In [country], X amount of people searched for [genre].

A great example of how Pornhub cashed in on its audience’s interests was with the birth of Pornhub Records. Simply put, the brand saw its audience liked rap, so they started a hip-hop label. Pornhub launched a national song search contest, offering up $5,000 to make a music video that would be placed on Pornhub TV, with a minimum of 500,000 views – guaranteed. The contest received submissions from rap featuring mature lyrics, right through to what has been dubbed as “erotic folk.” The overlap between Pornhub and the music industry has been ongoing for years, with artists such as Xiu Xiu and FaltyDL debuting clips and music videos on the website, accumulating nearly 73,000 views in the space of 8 months.

Everybody Likes A Laugh

Dr Seuss is quoted as saying, “You have to be odd to be number one.” When advertising in the adult industry, you often have to skirt about your product offering, and this usually comes in the form of humour. I mean, if you can’t talk about it, you may as well laugh about it? This is mostly the approach that Officer & Gentleman, the agency behind some of Pornhub’s most successful pieces of content, takes – producing completely SFW hero pieces that comply with strict content rules, without compromising impact.

Humour generates word-of-mouth marketing: “did you hear about the April Fools stunt [brand] pulled?” or “did you SEE that advert [brand] put out? It’s unbelievable!” This dialogue is invaluable for marketers and helps establish a positive brand reputation. Hero content and campaigns don’t need to scream “adult industry”, in fact, they don’t always need to scream “we offer this service and we’re the best”, sometimes being subtle is enough to generate a buzz and get your brand name out there.

This brand buzz doesn’t just nestle amongst the public, though. This particular Christmas campaign resulted in Pornhub being picked up by Mashable, The Huffington Post, AdWeek, The Metro and The Drum – to name a few. Having an x-rated brand in a regulated industry picked up in the mainstream press is an achievement in itself, partly owed to Pornhub’s knack for creating and distributing stand-out advertisements and content that remains family-friendly and ethical.

Chalk and Cheese Partnerships

Brands in regulated industries can almost “marry into” the mainstream by striking up unlikely partnerships. Finding a mainstream business to partner with something x-rated is a big portion of the battle, but once that’s overcome, the results can be mutually beneficial. Take Eat24, for example. Eat24 is a fast-food delivery app and website, serving over 1,500 cities in the United States. A few years ago, in its infancy, Eat24 began a partnership with none other than Pornhub. This risky move by Eat24 landed its adverts on the Pornhub console, largely due to Pornhub a) offering cheap advertising spaces, as it’s quite a niche site to be featured on and b) the incomparable amount of traffic the site consistently generates.

Research conducted by Eat24 found that in the top 100 sites visited in America, a number were in the adult industry. A comparison between Eat24’s CPM (cost per thousand) across major publishers such as Google, Twitter and Facebook found that the company could get more impressions via x-rated sites, than the big three publishers combined at roughly 1/10th of the cost. The unorthodox move worked in Eat24’s favour, as the advertisements on the site featured on the front page of the overly critical Reddit’s /r/advertising subreddit and gained coverage on sites such as Buzzfeed.

Not only was this a huge success for Eat24, but it also allowed Pornhub to receive mention and coverage on the Eat24 website, a predominantly mainstream business in an incredibly mainstream industry. In a similar fashion, adult site RedTube has recently applied to co-brand New York subway stations, an opportunity for the brand to receive mainstream coverage in an unusual, yet exciting partnership.

Marketing The Unmarketable: The Adult Industry & Artful Advertising | Neon

Philanthropy Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

From alcohol to tobacco, gambling to the adult sites, regulated industries tend to innately have an unfavorable reputation. This isn’t usually reflective on the specific brand itself, but is rather a predisposition that is age-old and reflective of the past and attitudes gone by. In regulated industries, it’s easy to be deemed irresponsible, offensive or influential (and not in a good way). The adult industry is more than accustomed to this, and, in a world where consumers are more aware of the duty of corporate responsibility, there is even more pressure to appear hyper-aware and sensitive of social constructs and stimuli.

Tackling these perceptions is often done using philanthropy, promoting an external cause that generally seeks to improve the welfare of the public or the planet. A prime example of this is Pornhub’s “Give America Wood” campaign. Behind the mischievous title, the cause is dedicated to planting 1 tree for every 100 videos viewed. The Pornhub Cares page is filled with a continuous stream of philanthropy causes, from offering scholarships worth $25k, saving pandas or offering sex education to the young, and the old. These charitable campaigns are meticulously thought out and presented, often having little in common with Pornhub’s general branding.

These campaigns are a far cry from the adult industry’s general offering, yet are an effective way to produce ethical content that resonates with a wider audience. The idea that an industry that is usually perceived as “bad”, can use its worldwide publicity to do something “good” is a step to re-imagining predispositions.

Be Bold, Not Boring

Having to comply with rigid rules and restrictions can often deflate marketers. How many times can my ideas be shot down by legal until something sticks? Having to jump through certain hoops to have any content or campaign aired can become monotonous, however, something that Pornhub can teach is that you don’t have to be boring. You can still be bold: it just requires a little more thinking.

Red Bull’s Stratosphere Jump is a key example of pushing brand boundaries to surprise and shock the public, and being in a regulated industry doesn’t mean you need to compromise on this. In a similar vein, Pornhub launched an Indiegogo Campaign titled “Sexploration.” The purpose of the fundraiser was to raise money so the company could direct and shoot its first-ever space scene; an ambitious and bold idea for any brand to execute. Despite seemingly failing to raise the costs to cover this space-endeavour, Porbhub massively profited from the campaign and nearly every major media company worldwide covered the mission, gaining PR traction that even a hefty budget would struggle to achieve.

As the Sexploration campaign demonstrated, bold ideas don’t even need to be majorly successful to gain commercial and press benefits. Taking a leap of faith and executing an idea that might seem a little too “out there” has the potential to organically generate unparalleled word-of-mouth and PR benefits.


It is possible to market the unmarketable – and with much success, at that. Promoting x-rated companies and businesses in a regulated industry is possible with ethical, SFW tactics, as market-leader Pornhub has continually demonstrated through its 10-year history. With data on your side, humour in your copy, friends in high places, an empathetic team in your office and bold ideas on your drawing board, you can build a global perception for even the most NSFW company.

How have you seen other regulated brands tackle marketing? Tweet @createdbyneon and let us know your examples and thoughts on this piece.

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