The ‘sex sells’ concept had fallen out of fashion, but things could be about to change with a digital-age reboot. Marketers can now maximize their budgets by advertising sex-related platforms. As taboos about online porn break down and new generations of singles see dating sites and apps as their first stop in the search for love, marketers have spotted an opportunity. These digital venues have become the next logical place for advertising to grow and reach an expanding audience. Our daily lives are punctuated by regular virtual interactions. Statisticians say we’re having less actual sex, but our online lives include a huge chunk of sex-linked ‘activity’. Where does that leave the time-honored marketing principle? Galloping away from sexually charged advertising via traditional media toward creative brand-, service- or issue-based marketing targeting consumers at times when sex is most on their minds.
Cue the rise of advertising via dating apps or porn sites. Many big brands, companies and innovative start-ups are choosing to launch campaigns on hook-up apps and, more controversially, porn sites that were once the preserve of promotional content. This is big news for the mainstream media, with porn-site advertising by ‘regular’ brands virtually guaranteed blanket press coverage, as fashion brand Diesel has shown this year by running a campaign on Pornhub and Grindr. But it is also important for marketers. Obviously, advertising on porn sites is certainly not going to hit the mainstream any time soon. But, as a channel that is much cheaper than advertising on Google, Twitter or Facebook, and with the chance to stand out from the crowd, is it a slow-burn phenomenon with a future? The logic is clear: Pornhub received more than 21bn visits worldwide last year, marketers are intrigued, but most are holding back.
Matthew Waghorn, group director of communications planning at digital agency Huge, can see the pros and the cons. “Content from [the porn] industry enjoys a much higher rate of user engagement, and massive traffic volumes far in excess of anything else online, to make it a relatively uncluttered marketing space for legitimate brands [to reach] men of all ages,” he says. Nonetheless, he adds: “Straight-up porn sites will likely see perhaps one or two dominant players who may court some degree of advertising money, but I don’t believe we will see an influx of brand expenditure in this space for some years yet.” Cat Davis, chief growth officer for UK and Europe at Cheil UK, understands the problems.
“I couldn’t see any branded ads on offer,” she says. “An ad for Vanish about getting stains out? Not there. While consumers may be loosening up about sexual content they consume online, it’s going to take a while for mainstream brands to consider this as a route to market. The businesses that should be using this ad space right now are the cheeky challenger brands that want to make an entrance and get talked about. Having said that, Diesel’s campaign on Pornhub and Grindr showing a toned model with killer abs in nothing but his underwear, with the words ‘No Filter!’ written down his leg, was a perfect fit for a particular segment of the brand’s audience, and brilliantly targeted.”
She believes this demonstrates the vital difference between brands cheekily using sex to engage consumers with a similar mindset, “and the brands that are simply using sex gratuitously to sell, similar to the babes-on-bonnets car ads of old”.
Diesel is undeniably the highest-profile name to have moved into this space. It gained huge publicity earlier this year with the aforementioned ads for its intimates collection, which ran from January through to Valentine’s Day. Diesel has a reputation for shaking things up, and no ‘family-brand’ image to maintain. But while the publicity surrounding its strategy was valuable, what really mattered were the estimated 60m daily visitors to Pornhub. “Pornhub became the number-one referring site for Diesel.com and sales have been very healthy, they’re very pleased,” says Richard Welch, global head of strategy at Spring Studios, the creative agency behind the campaign.
Not that the move was a ‘no-brainer’ even for Diesel. Risk-taker though it is, the company still has a valuable brand to nurture. Who’s next in the queue…