A "G-rated" porn campaign: PornHub's strangely SFW idea

An adult site wants to go mainstream -- with help from its fans

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published March 5, 2014 8:27PM (EST)


How do you make pornography safe for work? You start by crowdsourcing your dilemma, of course.

You know damn well what PornHub is. It's free porn video sharing, for God's sake. It caters to straight and gay adult entertainment enthusiasts, to fans of group scenes, amateur action, animation, female-friendly stories, you name it. As long as it's legal, it's probably there -- and you've probably watched it. It claims it gets 35 million viewers a day -- but PornHub wants even more. In the grand tradition of plenty of other attention-seeking businesses, last year it sought to run an ad during the Super Bowl, but was inevitably rejected in spite of its thoroughly tame content. And though its latest gambit may be a similar publicity stunt, the results are bound to be entertaining.

PornHub is currently dangling the reward of a job to the "innovative thinker" who can come up with an ad campaign tasteful enough to be featured on television, magazines and more. As the company explains, "We need to spread the word that porn has something for everyone," so it's "looking for high-quality designs that are G-rated and 'safe for work'." The entrant who succeeds in this task will be given the title of creative director and a yearlong contract.

I'll confess that I consider pornography – like bacon and Mr. Clean Magic Erasers -- high on the list of things that pretty much sell themselves. Any genre that can command a full quarter of all Internet search terms and earn nearly $5 billion a year maybe doesn't really need a billboard or a Super Bowl ad or a page in GQ. As long as there are human urges, porn will be just fine without any advertising whatsoever. And it's likely to stay that way. Even Spike TV – a network not known for setting the tastefulness bar too high – said Wednesday that "We would never allow PornHub advertising, ever."

Yet, as PornHub acknowledges in its call for submissions, pornography is still "a taboo subject," a vice society at large politely pretends only other people indulge in. Why not call out that hypocrisy? Pornography, after all, fuels your very mainstream cable provider and the hotel chain you stay in when you travel (unless it's Marriott).

But the real reason for the PornHub contest may not be so much a sincere belief that a mainstream venue will run an ad for its services any time soon, but a desire to please the fans. A bone to the viewers, if you will. Its vice president for marketing, Corey Price, told Business Insider Tuesday that "There’s a lot of people who really invest in the brand, and we really want to give them an opportunity to create for it and then become our creative director." And he says fans already frequently submit their ideas for ad campaigns. So why not take the often solitary act of enjoying porn and turn it into a collaboration? Why not offer a relatively safe, nonthreatening and even fun way to build community? That's what the contest can really achieve. That, and attention. And the results thus far, though mixed, do show that porn watchers can be a clever bunch. Without being overt or crass, submissions remind audiences that "Before you can love someone else, you must first love yourself" and that "Sometimes you just need a moment alone." An empty box of tissues, meanwhile, promises "Good clean fun!"

The best submissions, like good sex, are playful and funny. And PornHub has now, without spending a dime, widely unveiled its message on its own terms. None of it may ever wind up in prime time, but that's likely not really the point anyway. "In the worst case scenario, resourceful minds will ultimately prevail," Price says. "Following our rejection by CBS [for the Super Bowl], we were able to leverage traditional press and social media to garner exposure that rivaled, if not surpassed that of ads featured in those primetime slots. In short, while I can’t tell you exactly what we have up our sleeves, you can trust that we will be heard no matter what."

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Advertising Pornhub Pornography Super Bowl