trends

Marketing to Upscale Professionals

Alex Henderson
Even in the worst of economic times, there are some upscale professionals who continue to prosper — people who maintain a sizable income even when many others are becoming unemployed or underemployed. And if one has a product to sell, those are attractive customers to have. Although 2008 and 2009 have been challenging times for the adult entertainment industry, there are still affluent professionals who buy erotica religiously; the trick is finding them and keeping them.

Adult webmaster Jeff Booth, president of the Los Angeles-based EroticUniversity.com, said that upscale professionals are attractive customers not only because they have so much disposable income, but also because they tend to be more socially liberal on the whole. "As a general rule, the people who are more educated and are higher income earners tend to have far more liberal attitudes about sexuality," Booth explained. "That doesn't necessarily mean that they act that way in their own sexual lives, but it will impact their fantasy life and will impact the types of porn that they buy. And when you look at people who are less educated and poorer, they tend to have a more restricted view of sexuality and a more restricted fantasy life."

Booth said that when it comes to business-to-consumer marketing and branding and business-to-business marketing and branding, adult companies would be much better off if they knew more about the demographics of their customers (age, income, profession, etc.). He added that a lot can be learned from porn-related studies conducted by people outside the adult industry, and one study he cited as being especially informative was a recent study by Professor Benjamin G. Edelman of the Harvard Business School.

According to Edelman's research, eight of the ten states that had the highest Internet porn consumption in the U.S. were "red states" that went for John McCain instead of Barack Obama in 2008's presidential election. Edelman has concluded that perhaps the popularity of Internet porn in "red states" reflects the fact that the Christian Right has made adult video/DVD stores harder to find in the Bible Belt, but Booth speculates that Edelman's survey may also reflect the specific types of porn that are being consumed in "red states." Booth suspects that in the poorer "red states," most porn consumers are mainly interested in heterosexual vanilla erotica; the more affluent "blue states" like New York, Massachusetts and California, he said, are where one finds a demand for a wider variety of erotica. "Blue states," according to Booth, have been very profitable for BDSM erotica, alt-porn and gay erotica — and Booth noted that the BDSM scene and the gay community are both known for having a lot of upscale professionals. In fact, Colin Rowntree, founder of the BDSM-oriented Wasteland.com, has often told XBIZ that BDSM customers are great customers to have because many of them are affluent professionals who have plenty of disposable income to spend on their kinky interests.

"BDSM does seem to appeal to people who have not just money, but a certain level of privilege and prestige," Booth observed. "Rich people like their toys, and BDSM naturally incorporates a lot of toys. You don't see a lot of poor people at BDSM events; BDSM is an expensive scene."

Booth added that gay consumers have been profitable for adult webmasters because there is less of an anti-porn stigma in the gay community and because gay areas have so many upscale professionals. "In general, gay men have more disposable income," Booth explained. "Gay neighborhoods in major cities tend to have the lowest crime rates and the most expensive stores."

Booth stressed, however, that marketing to heterosexual blue-collar workers can certainly be profitable for adult companies, and he said that a great deal of vanilla erotica (including gonzo) has zeroed in on blue-collar fantasies. "A lot of porn appeals to what I call the Ron Jeremy fantasy: If Ron Jeremy can get laid, anybody can," Booth said. "When you're Everyman — when you don't have a lot of money and don't have any power — the fantasy of just being able to have sex with anybody any time you want is a hot-button trigger. If you have more money and more power, you have a lot more sexual opportunities — and I don't think that the Ron Jeremy fantasy has as much appeal to people with more money and more power. People who have less money relate to Everyman, so they're more likely to fantasize about Everyman having all kinds of wild sex. But Harvard MBAs aren't going to relate to a Joe the Plumber fantasy or an Everyman fantasy. Upscale people are less likely to fantasize about Joe the Plumber having all kinds of wild sex, but people at the lower end of the economic scale are more likely to have that type of fantasy."

One of the most important aspects of adult marketing is building a brand. Many years ago, Hugh Hefner recognized the importance of branding when he used the Playboy brand to market everything from a jazz festival to nightclubs — and Booth said that a big part of appealing to upscale professionals is not only giving them erotica that they enjoy, but also, having a brand that they are attracted to. "Years ago," Booth said, "I used to work for the magician David Copperfield, and one thing he really taught me was the importance of branding — how he had branded his name and marketed the name. Having a branded name is hugely important."

Booth said that the abundance of free adult websites makes it more important than ever for adult companies to build their brands. And in order for adult B2B and B2C marketing and branding to flourish, Booth said, webmasters will need to know not only how much traffic they're receiving, but also, demographic information on that traffic. "Most industries have hard numbers and hard data to tell them they're on the right track, but you don't have that type of market research for porn," Booth said. "We don't have as much hard data as we need in porn, and I think that really hurts. The only research that you can look at is the sexological research. If you're marketing porn and are trying to build your brand, you need to look at the sexological research and say, 'OK, what are the fantasies for different income groups? What are their education levels?' That data is out there, but you aren't going to find it from the porn sites — you're going to find it from the sexological surveys."

Booth asserted that the more adult companies know about the demographics of their customers, the stronger their B2B/B2C marketing and branding efforts will be in the future — and, Booth added, it's important to keep in mind that upscale professionals appreciate variety and experimentation when it comes to having sex or at least fantasizing about it.

"You have to know your audience," Booth stressed. "If you're trying to market to people with money and power, you have to know what their world is like — and you have to know what their sexual fantasies are like."

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