Under the Influence

Summer Series: Strange Bedfellows: Advertising & Porn- Part II

*Our Summer Series airs every Saturday at 1:30pm on CBC Radio One.* This week, it’s part two of our Strange Bedfellows episode. It’s not just smaller brands that are beginning to advertise on porn sites, Hollywood has come knocking, too. Large audiences and cheap ad rates are making advertisers ignore the risk in the hunt for reward. At the same time, porn sites are starting to advertise in mainstream media, and are trying to entice advertisers with analytics, public service messages and even college scholarships. It’s an interesting crossroad and a very dangerous intersection.

*Our Summer Series airs every Saturday at 1:30pm on CBC Radio One.*

This Week's Must-Listen Moment: Strange Bedfellows: Advertising & Porn- Part II 0:56

This week, it's part two of our Strange Bedfellows episode. It's not just smaller brands that are beginning to advertise on porn sites, Hollywood has come knocking, too. Large audiences and cheap ad rates are making advertisers ignore the risk in the hunt for reward. At the same time, porn sites are starting to advertise in mainstream media, and are trying to entice advertisers with analytics, public service messages and even college scholarships. It's an interesting crossroad and a very dangerous intersection.


When the song, More, More, More hit the charts in 1976, it was an instant smash.

Rolling Stone magazine would go on to call it one of the iconic songs of the disco era.

It was sung by Andrea True.

What was interesting about Andrea True was that she was a hardcore porn actress.

Porn actress Andrea True had a big hit with More, More, More in 1976. (image source: vimku)

At the height of her porn career, she had been hired to go to Jamaica to star in some commercials for a real estate company.

While there, a political crisis ensued. The Caribbean island had elected Michael Manley, a Castro sympathizer. The U.S. immediately imposed sanctions, and as a response, Jamaica banned asset transfers out of the country.

That meant Andrea True couldn't take the money she had earned from the commercials back to the States.

That's when she hit on a way to launder the money. She would record a song in Jamaica and take the money off the island in the form of a master tape.

So she contacted a record producer she knew, and explained her idea. It took him about an hour to scribble down a song while on a flight to Jamaica.

They recorded the song in a studio for $1,400.  

That song was More, More, More.

Originally, Buddah Records only released it into discos, but it became so popular, the record label put it out as a single in early 1976.

It was a huge international hit, reaching #4 on the Billboard charts, #2 on the disco chart, and reached #1 in Canada.

Andrea True's porn background clearly inspired the lyrics:

Ironically, Andrea True had been a radio advertising copywriter and jingle composer before her porn career. And after More, More, More was a hit, the advertising industry licensed her song often for commercials.

Like Honey Bunches of Oats cereal:

Ford used it. And Save-On Foods also used it.

It was an interesting song choice. Porn has always been toxic to the advertising industry – yet the fact the song was sung by a hardcore porn actress seems to have been forgotten – or ignored - and marketers have continued to use the song in commercials to this day.


Welcome to part two of our "Strange Bedfellows" episode.

(image source: medicaldaily)

For decades, the two worlds of porn and advertising were separated like the Antarctica and the Arctic – but now those two poles are moving closer together.

The new pornographers aren't hairy men with gold chains, they are masters of search engine optimization and traffic conversion ratios.

Meanwhile, the advertising industry has impatient clients demanding digital success.

It's not just a historic cross road, it's a dangerous intersection.

Many cite online porn as the first big revolution in the sex industry.

It allowed the adult film world to suddenly scale up – and reach hundreds of millions of customers at once.

That massive audience is one of the reasons the porn industry is becoming attractive to the advertising industry.

In our last episode, we talked about how pornography has been disrupted by the flood of free porn, and is in need of advertising revenue. On the other side of the tracks, the advertising industry has been disrupted by the splintered digital world and is in need of huge, affordable audiences.

That convergence of needs has led some smaller brands to stretch their ad budgets further by taking a chance and advertising on porn sites.

Those traffic-heavy adult websites give them exposure to huge audiences, and the controversy gives their campaigns a kind of rocket fuel.

Plus they achieve that for one-tenth the price of traditional media.

But it's one thing for small, feisty brands to tiptoe into the world of porn. It's quite another when big brands risk it.


Like Diesel. The Italian fashion giant has advertised on multiple porn sites.

Diesel was one of the first major brands to make the jump to porn advertising. (image source: Pornhub)

As advertising industry publication Campaign magazine predicted - Diesel's move will influence traditional advertisers to consider advertising on porn sites for the first time ever.

So it's probably no surprise that Hollywood came knocking.

In 2010, the trailers for a new movie titled Middle Men were advertised on the adult website YouPorn.

The movie Middle Men was a mainstream movie about pornography that was advertised on porn sites. (image source: imdb)

While the film was about the start of online pornography, it was a mainstream movie starring Luke Wilson, Kelsey Grammer and James Caan:

What made the choice to advertise the film on a porn site so interesting was the fact this movie wasn't made by some small, indie studio – it was from Paramount.

Middle Men wasn’t an indie production - it was a Paramount film. (talkandroid.com)

Paramount is a division of Viacom, one of the biggest, publicly traded companies in cable and entertainment, owned by billionaire Sumner Redstone, who also owns a controlling interest in CBS.

So when a company owned by the executive chairman of CBS advertises on porn sites, it's not an insignificant move.

In other words, the entertainment giant had just treated YouPorn as mass media.


In 2013, a film titled Movie 43 was advertised on YouPorn.

Move 43 starred a bevy of Hollywood stars and was advertising on YouPorn. (image source: imdb)

It featured a bevy of big-name stars, including Dennis Quaid, Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman.

It was produced by the company behind 21 Jump Street and Bridesmaids.

That same company also advertised a film titled 21 And Over on PornHub.

Later that same year, the movie Don Jon was released:

It starred actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote and directed the film.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt played a guy addicted to pornography. (image source: joe.ie)

It was about a guy who is addicted to pornography, he meets a girl, played by Scarlett Johansson, and she insists he give up his habit for her.

Scarlett Johansson’s character asks him to give up his porn obsession. (image source: celebmafia.com)

The film was advertised heavily on PornHub. But what was doubly interesting about Don Jon was the fact the Montreal-based porn site had a co-starring role. Gordon-Levitt's character is hooked on PornHub.

Don Jon wasn’t only advertised on PornHub - PornHub was in the film as product placement. (image source: hngn)

It was product placement.

You could argue the link between the pornography plotline and PornHub is what resulted in that media buy.

While Don Jon had a porn plot, other films advertised on porn sites did not. (image source: pornhub)

But it wouldn't explain the decision to advertise this film on porn sites:

Starring perhaps the longest list of action stars in one film, including Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Jet Li and Mickey Rourke, The Expendables was a major mainstream release.

Lionsgate Films advertised The Expendables on porn sites because it was trying to reach male viewers. (image source: deadline.com)

Lionsgate Films rolled out a major advertising campaign to launch the movie. The company's President of Worldwide Marketing told the Hollywood Reporter his company also advertised The Expendables on porn sites.

His reason: It was inexpensive and efficient.

The film was aimed at men, and porn sites delivered that audience affordably and abundantly.

He went on to say his company has no problem advertising on X-rated websites. Lionsgate even promoted its horror film Saw in S&M Magazines.

Now that Hollywood was partnering with porn sites, it was only a matter of time before porn invited brands to be part of the action…

With some mainstream brands beginning to advertise on porn sites, it comes as no surprise porn studios are now inviting mainstream companies to place their products in porn films.

Fashion brand Ecko Unlimited, for example, has been utilizing product placement in porn films for quite some time now.

Ecko has been placing its fashion products in XXX films for a while now. (image source: jbfashions.ca)

"Product placement in porn was inevitable," says Ecko's marketing director. He went on to say his company had placed its products in other films, so why not porn?

Ecko has always taken risks, but the company saw it as a mutually beneficial deal – the porn production company gets to be associated with the leading urban-wear manufacturer, and Ecko gets massive exposure to its main 18-35 demographic.

There is actually a company that will place your brand in adult films. It's called PornYourProduct.com.

There is actually a company that will place your product in porn films. (image source: pornyourproduct)

It was started by a former Wall Street intern named Paige Jennings. She was fired for tweeting suggestive photos of herself, then made her way into porn by appearing in some videos.

While exploring the adult movie business, Jennings realized there was a big opportunity being underserved: Product placement in porn films.

Interesting that PornYourProduct’s website tries to convince advertisers to “Shake the stigma.” (image source: pornyourproduct)
(image source: pornyourproduct)

Here's how she described it on CNN:

It was a big pitch to the advertising industry. Meanwhile, the international ad industry was meeting in France to talk shop.

Every June, the advertising industry convenes at the Cannes Lions International Festival Of Creativity in France.

The Cannes Advertising Festival is where the marketing world comes to compete each year. (image source: presskitchen)

It's a week long award show where advertising agencies from around the world come to compete, and an excellent roster of speakers present fascinating case studies and reveal emerging trends.

While there last year, I noticed one campaign in particular that partially inspired this episode.

It was for a porn site called Dorcel.com, based in France.

Marc Dorcel is a France-based porn site. (image source: dorcel)

It got my attention because it caused a long, heated debate in the jury room.

It was a telling moment – because the judges weren't trying to decide if a marketing campaign promoting pornography should be allowed into the competition, but rather they were debating whether the porn campaign should be given the Grand Prix award as best campaign of the year – or if that honour should go to another campaign by Volvo.

The jury was split.

Dorcel.com is a pay-site suffering from what all paid porn sites are suffering from: A drop in paying customers.

Dorcel believed the problem was that people don't have an appreciation for what "premium" porn is.

Put another way, if viewers could see the difference between free porn and paid porn, they would be willing to pay the $11 dollars per month to subscribe to the premium service.

So the porn site's ad agency came up with this idea:

They convinced Dorcel to make its entire library of "premium" porn available free for a limited-time.

They called the promotion: "Hands Off."

When you logged onto the website, you could watch whatever video you wanted from Dorcel's entire premium library – but on one condition:

You had to keep both hands on the keyboard.

In other words, you had to keep your left fingers on the Q and S keys, and your right fingers on the P and L keys – in order to keep the video rolling.

The second you took your hands off the keyboard to… do something else… the video would immediately stop, and a message would appear asking you to return your hands to the keys.

Hence, "Hands Off."

The “Hands Off” campaign idea created a lot of debate in the Cannes jury rooms. (image source: dorcel)

It was a humorous attempt to prove that premium porn was worth paying for, while still leaving people a reason to sign up.

As soon as the campaign was launched, it became a trending topic on Twitter, gaining 5,500 mentions and 13 million views.

The public tried all sorts of ingenious ways to beat the system by placing various objects on the keys, and uploaded hundreds of videos of the attempts.

Viewers uploaded videos of themselves trying to beat the system. (image source: Twitter)
(image source: Twitter)

"Hands Off" got mentioned 1200 times in news programs and online articles in France:

In the end, the Cannes Jury awarded the Grand Prix to Volvo, but still gave the French porn campaign a gold trophy because the number of new subscribers to the site was 50 times greater than it was before the campaign. The jury felt the campaign's success selling porn in a free-porn world was an achievement worth recognizing.

The advertising industry awarded the Dorcel campaign with a prestigious Gold Lion trophy. (image source: fuelcommunications)

Say what you will about the creativity of the idea, one fact remained: The advertising industry was awarding a campaign that promoted pornography.


While the ad industry is beginning to ignore the stigma of porn, the porn industry is putting on its best suit to woo advertisers.

Recently, XHamster, the world's third largest porn site, protested the contentious North Carolina transgender legislation by refusing access to anyone with a North Carolina IP address. XHamster said it found the legislation hypocritical, since its analytics showed North Carolinians searched the term transsexual 400,000 times in March alone. This may be the first time a porn site has voiced moral indignation.

XHamster blocked all North Carolina residents from accessing its website because it was protesting the transgender washroom legislation. (image source: xhamster)

XHamster also sponsors an Italian cycling team.

XHamster also sponsors a top Italian cycling team. (image source: xhamster)

The team has competed for the Italian Cup, and its Vice President said they are incredibly excited to have the porn site as one of their main sponsors.

YouPorn sponsors an e-sports team that competes in video game tournaments.

YouPorn sponsors an e-sports team. (image source: youporn)

PornHub sponsored a British University of Kent soccer team – briefly. The players couldn't find a single company to sponsor them. So for fun, they put PornHub's logo on their shirts. That got the attention of the porn site, who happily agreed to sponsor the team.

PornHub briefly sponsored a British school soccer team until the University kicked the idea out of contention. (image source: gawker)

Until the University said it was inappropriate and forbid it.


An adult site called WoodRocket.com is trying to bridge the gap between adult content and mainstream audiences.

Porn sites like this one try to creep further into the mainstream by creating podcasts and humorous parodies. (image source: kodim3u)

It's a free porn site that relies on product placement, sponsorship, licensing and merchandising.

It tries to attract advertisers by offering non-porn content alongside its X-rated material. For example, it features videos where porn stars comment on topical news items, like football games or the presidential election.

The site creates comedic parodies like Donald Tramp and Good Porning America. It reviews the sexiest movies on other sites like Netflix and HBO. It has videos of porn stars reading books, it creates cartoons and even issues podcasts.

But maybe no porn site works harder to attract advertisers than PornHub…

For starters, PornHub is trying to attract mainstream advertisers by advertising in mainstream media.

It erected a huge billboard in Times Square recently, with the headline:

PornHub posted a huge billboard in Times Square recently. (image source: salon.com)

On launch day, it hired the Gotham Rock Choir to sing on the sidewalk under the billboard:

PornHub created a Christmas commercial and posted it on YouTube.

PornHub also tried to buy Super Bowl ad time, but the network refused to accept the commercial. However, the high-profile turndown attracted lots of mainstream press attention.

PornHub has an elaborate analytics section on its website – tailor-made for advertisers - called PornHub Insights.

PornHub offers a substantial analytics section for advertisers that breaks down its audience. (image source: pornhub)

There it breaks down its audience into well-designed charts, listing traffic by age, gender, day-part, geographical location and the most popular search terms.

From tickling video to smoking videos, the porn Canada searches is very revealing (and surprising). (image source: pornhub)

It dives even deeper with research showing what effect events like the Super Bowl have on porn habits, what people search on holidays like St. Patrick's Day, Thanksgiving, and so on. Perfect for advertisers looking for specific demographics.

PornHub’s research even shows what people search for during big events like the Super Bowl. (image source: pornhub)

But maybe the most unexpected offering on the website is a section called PornHub Cares.

PornHub has a public service category. (image source: pornhubcares)

It has a "Save the Whales" initiative, where it donates one cent for every 2,000 videos viewed to a non-profit organization dedicated to whale knowledge and conservation.

Porn saves whales. (image source: pornhub)

It sells a limited-edition clothing line with all proceeds going to an End Domestic Violence program.

PornHub donates all profits from its line of clothing to anti-domestic violence organizations. (image source: pornhubcares)

It has a tree planting initiative called "Give America Wood" where it donates one tree for every 100 videos viewed in its Big fill-in-the-blank category.

PornHub has been sprucing up the Earth. (image source: pornhub)

There is a "Save The Boobs" breast cancer program, where it pledges one cent for every video viewed from its big & small breast video categories and donates that money to charity.

PornHub has a breast cancer initiative. (image source: pornhub)

There is also a "Save The Balls" program.

PornHub even sponsors a testicular cancer awareness program. (image source: pornhub)

In a further example of reaching out to Madison Avenue, PornHub partnered with advertising agency McCann Peru to create a video starring a top porn star with the provocative title: Charlotte Stokley teaches you how to last longer. It turned out to be a public service video teaching men how to check for testicular cancer. "Watch porn, live longer" was the message.

But perhaps the most surprising element was a $25,000 college scholarship.

Maybe most surprising of all is the PornHub college scholarship. (image source: pornhub)

http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000417136

In an interesting flip, the porn site said it would disqualify any submissions that contained explicit material in the videos.

1,000 people applied for the scholarship, and the winner was a mom from Texas.

All of these initiatives are designed to position PornHub, and other large adult sites, as viable advertising mediums.

The vice president of PornHub insists that people who visit adult sites are no different from those who visit mainstream sites. He says the site attracts a strong online demographic made up of very active consumers.

The top 10 biggest porn sites in the world now see themselves as mass media companies looking to expand their pool of advertisers.

And they are trying to push that conversation out into the general public.

Recently, that conversation got PornHub into a bit of hot water.

The site launched a new premium service with this commercial:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/video/news/video-1205962/Pornhub-release-cheesy-advert-launch-premium-service.html

The Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese Consortium of Italy, charged with protecting the Italian cheese-making industry, considered suing PornHub over that commercial.

The association maintains the porn site is damaging the image of its product.

It said PornHub had vulgarly exploited the fame of cheese.


An article in Time magazine back in 2001 was discussing the emergence of porn into the mainstream.

It noted that while porn was a $10 billion dollar industry in the U.S. (at the time), it wasn't "10 perverts spending a billion dollars each."

Adult content scaled up enormously by going online, and the sense of outrage that tailgated porn for decades seems to diminish a little more each year.

Now we see porn sites needing ad revenue, and Madison Avenue reaching across the chasm in small, but significant ways.

When PornHub's Super Bowl commercial was rejected, the network was CBS. Yet CBS is owned by Viacom, the same company that advertises its movies on porn sites.

It's a very dangerous game.

The most valuable asset a company has is its reputation.

And what is a reputation but the sum total of all the decisions a company has made over time.

Those choices are getting blurrier as porn takes its place in pop culture - because advertising has always worshipped at the altar of pop culture.

And it doesn't seem like the trend is showing signs of slowing down.

Maybe Andrea True was predicting the future back in 1976.

It just looks like more, more, more…

…when you're under the influence.