Porn and advertising – Will there ever be a hook-up?

Vivekanand Salunke is the Regional Associate Director of Strategy of Carat APAC.

5 – 7 minute read


Did you know porn receives more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon, & Twitter combined? 
35% of all internet downloads are porn movies.
Porn accounts to at least 30% of all data transferred across the internet.

Yes, it’s not secret that porn is one of the leading industries driving website traffic online. Pornographic websites are responsible for up to 30% percent of all visits on the internet worldwide. Porn sites are clearly the favoured choice, as it outranks gambling, beauty and fitness, travel, health, and recreation. And its not just a male thing; over 30% of traffic is female.

For this article I am going to take you through how advertising has started to open up when it comes to advertising on porn and its foreseeable future.

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. Since the rise of advertising via dating apps or porn sites many big brands, organisations and innovative start-ups are choosing to launch campaigns on hook-up apps and, more controversially, porn sites that were once the preserve of seedier promotional content.

Some bold brands have understood the audience potential porn industry can unlock and they have started running campaigns specific to porn environment. Fashion brand Diesel ran a campaign on Pornhub and Grindr. 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. This campaign was one of their most effective campaigns with pornhub becoming their number referring site for Diesel.com.

The reasons for this effectiveness is quite clear, these channels are much cheaper than advertising on Google, Twitter or Facebook, and with the chance to stand out from the crowd. 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/women of all ages.

Diesel was a great example but there is a thin line since not every brand can embrace this trend as the medium would be too controversial for some. Brands should be rightly wary of aligning themselves to the sector.

Interestingly, food-to-go start-ups have embraced porn-site advertising. However, their experiences vary widely and demonstrate that nobody can make assumptions and nobody can take their audience for granted.

US app Eat24 took the plunge and credited its porn-site campaigns (plus the ensuing publicity) for taking it from a cash-strapped, me-too start-up to its $134m acquisition by Yelp.

The brand had managed to reach many more potential customers than if it had advertised on Google, Facebook or Twitter, and at about 10% of the cost. It generated massive traffic from first-time users (a claimed 90%), with customer retention four times that of Facebook

Conversely, Zomato, a restaurant-search and food-ordering site that was founded in India and now operates in more than 20 countries, made a highly publicised entry into advertising on porn sites last December – a decision it reversed, equally publicly, days later. It had seemed to make sense. India is the third-biggest source of traffic to Pornhub worldwide. Yet, despite Zomato’s humorous ads generating millions of clicks and a rise in order volumes, all at a very low cost, the backlash was instant and intense.

While there are a lot of pros for advertising on porn sites there are a lot of cons as well. In a lot of countries porn is illegal so when a brand is seen on a porn site it might face a massive legal action. Ad fraud is one of the biggest concerns as it happens in normal digital environment then what can happen when you go advertising on porn sites. My prediction advertisers will be cautious till the time there are more global and organised porn websites such as pornhub etc. who can assure quality brand environment. This is no small feat considering the often written about industry difficulties in ensuring transparency.

Our predictions for marketers who may consider porn as a viable space.

Its not going mainstream anytime soon. I have been on porn websites and the conditions in which the brands get advertised are not really the best. Brands need to and will be staying away from the local porn sites which are not commercialised yet as they don’t have the right environment as a pornhub has. I couldn’t see any branded ads on offer such as an ad for an apparel brand or a perfume or deo. 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.

To get the share of increasing ad revenue the porn industry will get more organised and innovative – The global players like pornhub and youporn have already organised their sites and are trying to be more ethical by getting rid of abusive content. More and more players need to follow this trend to start getting the ad revenues. Unless then those sites have to be on their own which won’t be a sustainable model for them.

Will there ever be a mainstream hook-up between porn sites and advertisers? Some say necessity is the mother of all invention and in slow growth periods brands often seek new growth opportunities. There may be a real first to market advantage for courageous brands who see a potential fit and make the leap. However first to market can also be a double edged sword.

Whether advertising and porn will ever intersect really boils down to its mainstream acceptability in our moral consciousness.