Porn Ads

Porn. Porn. Porn. Porn.

Uncomfortable yet? If you’re anything like the average entrepreneur and venture capitalist, the answer is probably yes. Despite the fact that porn is a multi-billion dollar industry and makes up 30 percent of all data transferred across the Web by some estimates, most in the technology industry have shied away from participating the adult arena – either directly or indirectly – primarily for fear of “reputational risk.

But this is slowly starting to change, at least when it comes to advertising. Stanford alumni may not be rushing from graduation to launch the next great digital pleasure palace, but if recent evidence is any indicator, more and more founders are viewing adult websites as a viable channel for marketing to potential customers.

What’s more, these businesses aren’t doing so behind the cover of darkness, cowering in fear that the mainstream consumer audience may find out where their banner ads have been. Rather, they’re effectively shouting from rooftops, “Advertising on porn sites really works.”

Take a recent blog post from online food ordering (and real world delivery) startup eat24. The company, whose target audience is about as universal as you can get, recently published an entry titled “How to Advertise on a Porn Website.” The article explains the rationale behind they company’s potentially controversial strategy as follows:

When we start a new marketing campaign, one of our main goals is to maximize ROI without dipping into our hair gel fund (because priorities). Since Eat24 is a privately held company that has accepted exactly $0 in VC funding to date, we don’t really like throwing piles of cash at huge traditional media campaigns. We prefer to be smart with our money, which is why we have to come up with creative and unique marketing strategies to fit our budget and brand. It’s an eternal quest to find the perfect ad platform with really high traffic, and dirt cheap inventory. Basically, a unicorn…PORN. Porn is the answer!

…If you ever take two seconds out of your naughty time to glance at the ads on porn sites, you’ll notice that 99% of them are for more porn. It’s a world where no one besides male enhancement pills and adult friend finders have dared to go. Not a single mainstream brand advertising there. We could be that 1%.

In summary, porn is where the eyeballs are, but existing ads there are one-dimensional (and poorly designed). What’s more, ad inventory on adult sites is significantly cheaper than on more family friendly publishers. Eat24 figured that it advertising on the top-three adult sites would generate more ad impressions than comparable ads on Google, Twitter, and Facebook, but at one-tenth the cost. Moreover, the ads outperformed, converting to loyal and high-spending customers. The company writes:

No matter what metric you want to use to define success, our campaign kicked ass all the way across the board. Impressions? Our porn banner ads saw three times the impressions of ads we ran on Google, Twitter and Facebook combined. Click through? Tens of thousands of horngry Americans clicked our ads. Yeah, but did they convert? Psshhh, please. We saw a huge spike in orders and app downloads during the time our ads were live, especially late at night…We were able to achieve the stellar metrics mentioned above all for the low low price of 90% less than what the big guys charge per 1,000 impressions.

…And guess what? They were coming back too (they always come back). New customer retention on porn banners was four times higher than that of our Facebook ads…We figured the average order total for our incoming porn customers would be low. Nope! They spent even more than our site average.

In addition to its banners ads, Eat24 has also managed to get several adult stars to tweet provocative messages about its service to their tens (or hundreds) of thousands of eager followers. Presumably these are paid relationships, although they company doesn’t specify. But regardless, this further demonstrates their willingness publicly to push the moral/ethical boundaries traditionally associated with brand advertising.

Eat24 shared a few interesting findings that go beyond ad conversion rates. For example, Chicagoans proved the most likely to order food after taking a little “me time.” New Yorkers, on the other hand, appear two times more likely than residents of other cities to combine me time and delivery during lunchtime, while those in Houston are more breakfast people and Baltimore/DC residents prefer late night action – data that only partially correlates with Pornhub reports on the proclivity for porn watching in heavily religious cities.

Fratboy humor aside (the blog post in question has it in spades), eat24 makes a strong case about the viability of advertising on porn sites. And it’s message seems to have resonated, at least briefly, if this tweet is any indication:

Eat24’s lionization of the porn advertising channel comes just a few months after another online brand came to a similar conclusion. In July, online underwear delivery startup MeUndies launched its maiden adult site ad campaign on high-brow adult content site “PaintBottle[dot]com.” MeUndies has yet to release performance data for this campaign, but similarly emphasized cost benefits and the ability to stand out among a sea of inferior ad competitors as a primary drivers in the decision to go XXX.

If advertising on adult sites catches on to any significant extent, the price gap between this inventory and that on mainstream publisher sites could eventually disappear, but the above conversion and long term customer performance statistics suggest that there may be other reasons to target these audience segments.

Porn advertising will always remain off limits for a large percentage of the brand universe (think anything having to do with kids, specifically targeting religious audiences, founders whose personal beliefs dictate as much, etc.). But at the same time, there are likely a large number of brands for which advertising alongside adult content would be a decision the economic and customer acquisition benefits of which would outweigh its potential reputational risks.

As more and more guinea pigs willingly share their experiences advertising alongside porn, ignorance of the opportunity is no longer an excuse. For many brands, the decision will remain one based on principle, not on dollars and cents. But it appears that the wall of advertising prudeness may be crumbling slowly.