Feature

What it's like to be PornHub's ad agency

Ever wondered who creates the ads for pornographers? The Drum gets up close and personal with the dynamic duo behind PornHub's marketing, finding out how you advertise a brand when you can't show the product.

Over a shaky Skype connection, two quirky creatives are proudly demonstrating how their parody wearable 'the Wankband' works. Watching these men mimic the hand motions of an intimate act to show how their device measures the kinetic energy expended during a frantic masturbation session makes for no ordinary interview. But then, their client is no ordinary advertiser.

Spanish creative agency Officer & Gentleman works closely with PornHub to create videos that engage all walks of life with pornography. The Drum got intimate with agency co-founders Alex Katz and Javier Iñiguez de Onzoño to dissect the challenges in advertising a porn purveyor to a populace too ashamed to admit they probably spend more time on the site each day than brushing their teeth.

PornHub is the face of online porn. It is a brand that has to reach out to the public from behind a veil of stigma and societal repression despite it also being the 38th most visited site on the web. The brand is a household (or bedroom) name to many, but these same people will likely feign ignorance when it arises in conversation, which inarguably represents a unique creative challenge for any marketer to take a thrust at.

Katz and Iñiguez de Onzoño have worked together for about a decade, servicing mainstream clients like Samsung, Google, Microsoft and Burger King. But their most captivating and "funnest" client, PornHub, took an interest in the pair following their participation in its safe for work advertising competition encouraging creatives to develop clever ads that the company can actually run online, in print, anywhere back in 2013.

The duo didn’t win, but their 'Titcoins' entry (a bitcoin spoof you should probably watch below) attracted the attention (or admiration?) of the PornHub team and kickstarted a long-term relationship that is yet to reach its climax.

The pair like weird, creative ideas, and admit during conversation that they were fans of the Skittles Mother’s Day ad, ‘Umbilical’, that was pulled earlier that day. They say the brand "trusts" them and as a result they've been granted a lot of creative freedom to bring to life ideas that humourise and subvert a porn advertising market that is often at best crude and at worst disturbing. Think back to the absolute worst banner ad you've ever seen – it was mostly likely a very graphic image (or gif, if it was recent) of a woman 'in your area' doing something so extreme that it drove you to immediately download an adblocking extension and scrub your eyes with soap.

Katz and Iñiguez de Onzoño's brief is to broaden the appeal of PornHub with safe for work videos, a feat that requires them to sell a product without showing it. “Most of what we do that has to do with sex is either implied or portrayed in a funny way; we can’t use sex, no one would be able to share it,” Katz says. He adds that as everyone knows what PornHub deals in, there is no need to spell it out.

A real challenge for the brand is that it scarcely has a social media footprint in comparison to the traffic it derives from Google; naturally most networks make life hard for those vending pornography. PornHub has no presence on Facebook, over half a million followers on Twitter, 2.2 million fans on Instagram, 100,000 subscribers on YouTube, a Snapchat group, a Reddit presence and a Tumblr account. On YouTube, some of its videos are pushing towards millions of views, including ‘Lonely Night’ (1.6m), ‘Gift Card’ (6.8m), ‘BangFit’ (3.7m), ‘Wankband’ (3,7) and ‘Twerking Butt’ (2.2m) – a testament to the creative team’s strategy.

Iñiguez de Onzoño is thankful that "the media and the public share the videos," underlining the fact they are quirky, funny and risky. But each campaign, which takes months to bring to fruition, also has a clear call-to-action in an attempt to legitimise porn in the eyes of a wider audience.

Whereas Bangfit touched down with fitness nuts, Gift Card embraced the elderly, and Mommy's Special Glasses went after a female demographic.

Katz says the strategy is gaining momentum: "We could see a wider range of people sharing stuff. I read every single tweet that comes in. People were admitting to watching and enjoying our videos. We’re making more niche videos for women and different age groups."

When pushed, he is unable to pick his favourite campaign. “They’re all my children”. Iñiguez de Onzoño admits that each piece of work has its strengths. It appears they are not above a bit of modesty.

They want to transcend branding and make PornHub a universally recognisable icon. Iñiguez de Onzoño has stars in his eyes: "We want to be the Playboy of porn. In the 90s, everyone knew what Playboy was, people had the branding on things even if they didn’t buy the magazine."

Technically, PornHub already is a sex-themed media company; it's just short of a mansion and a magazine. Of course, even Playboy looks for a return to the glory days as founder Hugh Heffner's son Cooper takes to the keys to the resplendent Playmate HQ.

Understandably, there are clients out there who won't want to be associated with the PornHub guys who test drive Wankbands on Skype calls with journalists. Iñiguez de Onzoño admits they probably have an issue with about 5% of clients.

Meanwhile, Katz puts a more positive spin on it: "There are some clients that are put off but on the other side there are others that are attracted – people call us because they have a similar communications problem as PornHub. People love porn, but they don’t want to talk about it.

"We know how the trade works, we’re professionals, even though we do this kind of stuff, we’ve been working for brands for many years. That said, we could be working on a conference call for PornHub on the set of another ad. All clients have their own problems and we bring a creative approach."

One particular problem for PornHub is censorship, and in this regard the creative agency has to tread carefully. Once upon a time it tangled with the Italian cheese industry: "Why don’t we get this aged Parmigiano-Reggiano. They say it’s the PornHub Premium of cheeses," said an ad – before it was obliterated by lawyers from the company.

A fully censored version of the ad remains defiantly online.

So what does the future hold for this ballsy brand and its intrepid agency? In the near future, Katz and Iñiguez de Onzoño are shooting an ad with a pornstar in Iñiguez de Onzoño's father-in-law's mansion. They're not entirely sure why he granted them permission.

After that? Well, they've got their eyes on the Playboy status, so maybe The Drum can ask them in half a decade, sitting upon the plastic covered couches in the PornHub Mansion...

Get the Newsletter

Keep up to date with the latest news and insights.

Subscribe

John McCarthy

John is an entertainment marketing reporter at The Drum. He writes about the amazing marketing stories coming from the movie, TV, music and video game industries. He's also the hunt for the weirder trends in marketing and advertising.

Fuelled by tea.

All by John