Smart Studio Marketing
"A year ago, I would have said, 'Get to the video stores,'" he admits. "'Get to the consumer. Send actresses.' Now I don't know. It's probably all heading toward the Internet now."
The rapidly changing landscape in adult entertainment, which saw a significant drop in retail DVD sales and a powerful increase in video-on-demand sales in 2006, is forcing producers to rethink how they advertise their happens to be a powerhouse like Vivid Entertainment or Playboy, with a bottomless advertising budget, outlets like print, radio, television, billboards, emails and the Internet are all in play.
But what about the smaller players?
The companies that don't have millions to spend every year on marketing have to find ways to get more bang for their advertising bucks. It's a process of trial and error — often very expensive error — but other smaller firms can learn from those mistakes and avoid wasting money.
One of the first lessons learned today by companies with moderate marketing budgets is that the print ad is not what it used to be. Take the example of Arrow Productions, which is one of the oldest companies in adult and owns 650 classic features, including the iconic "Deep Throat" and "The Devil in Miss Jones."
"We pretty much stopped advertising [in print]," reveals Paul Interlandi, Arrow's head of production.
"We used to have the inside cover [in trade magazines], but we had serious doubts about how effective it was, and it's extremely expensive. At the time, we were paying $4,000 per month for one page. We did that for a year and I can't tell you how many stores and distributors would say after all that, 'Who are you guys?' "We spent $32,000, and still I have to listen to, 'Who are you guys? We never heard of you before.'"
Acid Rain's Spinelli came to the same conclusion this year about advertising in print.
"I don't think it's as effective as it was a couple of years ago," he says. "I used to take double pages in AVN, but I think the DVD market is diminishing."
Another marketing avenue — mass media on radio and TV — is too pricey for the more modestly capitalized firms, but there have been creative ways to get around the per-minute commercial prices. Star World Productions owner Rob Spallone thought he'd found a way some years ago, by taking advantage of his colorful personality to make guest appearances on TV and radio shows. But experience has taught him that this is a marketing mirage.
Increasingly, the smaller players are shying away from spending their ad dollars on print and personal appearances at retailers, finding that the most cost-effective place to go is where everyone else has gone — the Internet.
Spinelli's Acid Rain Video joined up with XXX Content Direct of Las Vegas not long ago. They promote his company's content through feeds, paysites and plugins, selling it online through AcidRainCinema.com.
"On the Internet, there are no distributors," Spinelli points out. "Distributors are lazy, anyway. They're like the big three auto companies in Detroit. They're not going to push anything else."
Spinelli feels this is the best strategy for his company, because he's reaching consumers at minimal cost.
"The only expense is getting your traffic," he explains. "Either you buy it, or trade it, or you do affiliates, or you align yourself with other companies and kind of swap. There are a lot of big Internet companies that manufacturers have never heard of, but they're doing killer business with thousands and thousands of members. XXX Content handles that for us.
"But it's all about the consumer," Spinelli says. "The more traffic you have, the more affiliates you have, the more consumers you reach."
Spinelli's online marketing strategy is becoming more or less the standard for adult companies that are trying to stretch their ad dollars. But it may not be the most cost-effective method.
Arrow's Interlandi has hit upon a creative and extremely cheap way to put his product into the hands of surfers.
"We have used Yahoo Groups to drive traffic to our website, which is pretty effective," he says.
Placement of links and messages in adult groups is free, and Interlandi adds that there are a number of specialized groups and clubs that would be boons to producers in niche markets.
In terms of spending smart ad dollars, Interlandi thinks he's found a winner in buying placement on search engines.
"We buy placement on Google, so that's a paid advertisement for search engines," he explains. "Our Google budget is about $2,000 a month, but some sites are as cheap as $200 a month.
"With something like a Yahoo buy, people actually search you out, wanting your stuff, and they go to your website. With print, they're not online. They're just looking at your ad, and nobody knows whether they get off their butts and go to their computers.
"That's why the search engine placement is the most cost-effective," Interlandi says, "because it puts the person seeking what you have on to your website. That's pretty effective."
Though Interlandi swears by the search engine strategy, he makes sure that Arrow diversifies its advertising outreach on the Internet. Arrow purchases banners on other adult websites to drive traffic to its own site. One of those adult websites has been golden, in Interlandi's opinion.
"We've been advertising on Adult FYI for two or three years, so that one has worked out OK," he mentions. "We're in a lot of free websites."
Another online gambit is email spamming, which Star World's Spallone tried with mixed results. He had teamed with the big adult provider BabeNet to spam his product to email addresses daily.
"That was my way of getting people all over the world to know about my product," Spallone says. "If BabeNet had done things the way they should have and email spam every day, I definitely would have been successful."
Spallone's bad experience with the spam campaign was sharpened by the tremendous expense this strategy has become.
"It costs big money to advertise by email," he says. "I was going to make mega-money, but I needed another few hundred thousand dollars to buy email advertising. I just couldn't get it out there without big money behind me, and I didn't have it at the time. To spam out my advertising every day was going to cost me $1,500 a day. But if I had money, I would have done it."
Despite the bad experience, Spallone is back to advertising online, now that he's opened his own modeling agency.
"I'll put up a site with pictures," he admits. "People go to the site, look at the girls and then call me and say who they want."
But when it comes to advertising his productions online, Spallone remains hesitant.
"Putting the word out is a hard, hard thing," he says. With advertising costs spiraling — Arrow will spend between $50,000 and $100,000 on it in 2007, according to Interlandi — the question remains: is online really the most cost-effective way to market material?
Says Spallone, "I don't have a clue."