Advertising on Porn Sites

Sheldon P.
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There is a lot of buzz in the marketing and advertising world about the reach and potential of advertising through porn. Gone are the days of sketchy backrooms in seedy video stores, today, you are hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t at least visited a porn site out of curiousity.

On a recent episode of CBC Radio’s “Under The Influence” (click here for the link), the programme focused on a few case studies in which unlikely industries were able to stretch their marketing dollar by advertising on porn sites. Unlike traditional online advertising campaigns through Google and Facebook, porn campaigns gave the marketers a chance to think outside the box and run campaigns for longer on the same budget. The results were extremely interesting, leading to a boost in sales for a food-delivery service and some free publicity for their efforts.

So does this mean that Google and Facebook are in danger of losing their ad revenue to a new competitor? Hardly. For one thing, the CBC Radio piece focused on a few interesting examples but the models they showcased were fairly niche.

While the food-delivery story was an interesting example their ad did not to be pin-point accurate as they had a product that fit in well with the very general audience that the porn sites catered to. Their client-profile happened to work well for the ad network. If you were to take a more niche product, say an ad for a flower shop, you are most-likely missing your mark.

This is something that may not be apparent at first because the most common mistake I see when I ask a business owner “who is your target audience”. At least one out of every three will say “I want to target everyone”. That’s not realistic. When your target is everyone, it might as well be no one. Even a company like McDonald’s who seemingly “targets everyone” has a very specific profile in mind. A health conscious runner training for a half-marathon is probably not their ideal target. While, yes, we can imagine an athlete indulging every once in a while, McDonald’s “client-profile” very likely excludes these people as part of their “core demographic”. This is because they don’t want to waste time, money, and effort focusing on someone who is a poor fit for their products. By contrast, Nike is probably spending like crazy to grab the attention of those same athletes. Yes, couch potatoes can wear runners but Nike is not spending a whole lot of ad revenue to target these people. So how does this relate back to porn?

Something that I felt the CBC piece missed was this targeting aspect. Part of the reason Google and Facebook are able to charge so much for their ads is because of their targeting metrics. They are extremely competitive compared to traditional media where, yes, you might reach 100 000 people via a radio or television ad, but now many people from that audience fit your client profile? Yes, you can do some targeting based on the type of programming you are advertising on, but that information pales in comparison to Facebook’s ability to target specific genders, ages, interests, and (in the US) income level.

And this is where Google and Facebook had the advantage. It’s been a long running joke that the social media share buttons on porn sites are a trap. Very few people want to share their porn experience and no one wants to give porn companies information about themselves. This means that you’ve only managed to find out a few things about your target audience and the rest is guess work.

To follow CBC’s example, I have a case study of my own. A friend of mine is in charge of the marketing strategy for a company he works at. One morning, his boss hears that porn is a great advertising network, able to reach a lot more people for the same budget that they are spending on Facebook. He wants to try this out. My friend, however, cautions that porn is a poor fit for their product and that they won’t be hitting their client base. They proceed anyway. As predicted, when they ran the Facebook ads side-by-side along the porn ads, the Facebook ones did far better in terms of conversions. The Facebook ads cost a little more, but at the end of the day it was the ROI that mattered, not the advertising spend. While the Facebook demographics allowed the company to streamline their target audience, the porn site advertising tools gave very little information back beyond the number of times the ad was show, the number of times people clicked through, and which sites on their ad network showed the ads. The information collected by the porn sites was next to useless for my friend’s company. They stopped using the porn network and stuck to Google, Bing and Facebook after that.

So what's the take away from all this? While advertising on a porn network might seem trendy, edgy, and (of course) sexy, it may not be the tool of choice depending on your needs. Advertising spend is not the same as return on investment. And, most importantly, to successfully market your services and products, you need to understand your market place and your target audience.