trends

The Art of Promotion

Michael Hayes
Every once in a while you hear about a new porn movie in the most unexpected places. Media outlets like The New York Times, Newsweek, or even The Wall Street Journal, don't generally report on porn. And when they do, the news isn't usually all that favorable for the industry.

But every couple of months — and more and more these days it seems — mainstream media outlets are picking up on adult entertainment stories in a way that really isn't much more than a tailor-made promotional vehicle for the studio's marketing agenda.

So what's going on? Is adult industry marketing getting more sophisticated, or is the mainstream media running out of stories to cover? Between the economy, two wars, health care and literally hundreds of other critical issues, it's probably not the later.

Consider a story from Daily Variety (you know, the trade publication for Los Angeles' other film industry) that ran earlier this year. The piece was titled "Classic TV Gets Porn Parody Treatment." While the writer did his best to angle the piece toward a Hollywood reader, the result was a field day for Hustler, which managed to get 10 titles (!) mentioned.

In fact, the Daily Variety reporter was so over the moon on the topic that he suggested that Hustler consider two additional parodies ("Boston Illegal" or "T.J. Hookers") in an attempt to woo actor William Shatner, who had "politely declined" to provide DVD commentary for the studio's "This Ain't Star Trek XXX."

While there's no word if Hustler has offered the Daily Variety scribe a development deal, it is clear that the studio — and others like it — doesn't have to offer a mainstream media outlet a fat fee to coax it into helping to promote a tent-pole feature. That's right, porn has become the beneficiary of free mainstream media. Or, at least some porn films — those which adult could rightly be called blockbuster fare — have come to rely on marketing plans as complex and audacious as those hatched inside leading mainstream studios.

Not that this is a new phenomenon. In the 1970s, for example, the distributors of films like "Deep Throat" benefited greatly from mainstream coverage, which helped raise awareness of the product and — ultimately — boosted box office sales. And if you're curious, just ask any porn star from the '90s how important it was to get on "The Howard Stern Show."

But what's new these days in marketing adult movies is that studios consistently plan to promote big budget, tentpole movies. Where previous promotional schemes may not have been as comprehensive, today's plans are often carried out with the same attention and focus as its Hollywood counterparts.

So what role does marketing play in building buzz and driving sales for adult's tentpole features, and how important is it to promote the film beyond the usual trade press release and box cover art?

"I think marketing is extremely important to the success of any project," Jeff Mullen, the director and PR guru behind the X-Play and All Media Play labels, told XBIZ. "People have to be drawn to a project one way or the other or you risk tanking and losing a lot of money."

For Mullen, who says there's nothing that he's ruled out when it comes to promoting a film, marketing is a take-no-prisoners venture that never ends. Second only to producing a quality product — something Mullen has done consistently from "Britney Rears" to "Flight Attendants" — he sets high goals for a film's marketing plan. And like many in the industry who specialize in marketing blockbusters, the marketing plan begins even before day one.

"I can tell you that we don't ‘wing' anything," Adella Curry, who handles publicity for Digital Playground, tells XBIZ. "Several months to over a year before release, we create a marketing plan and schedule and then execute timeline."

So what goes into the marketing plan for a blockbuster release?

For starters, you need to throw out the concept of "typical," according to Mullen.

"I don't think there is any formula anymore for marketing because there are so many wide open opportunities available now but it just takes some common sense and elbow grease," Mullen says.

But it also takes a good product, Katy Zvolerin, director of Public Relations at Adam & Eve, tells XBIZ.

"If the project isn't strong enough or doesn't feature enough star power, it doesn't matter [how much marketing you do]," Zvolerin explains.

But for Adam & Eve, which puts its marketing dollars and muscle behind films that feature its contract stars, standard components to any strong marketing campaign include promotional parties, swag giveaways on radio shows and viral videos that tease the upcoming film.

Similarly, on-set interviews with talent and articles in men's magazines are also brought into play. It's a strategy Adam & Eve has used to promote such tentpole pictures as "The 8th Day" and "Surrender of O," and it's one Zvolerin says is designed to let the general public know just how big the film really is.

According to Kristin Spillers, director of marketing at Hustler Video, the marketing plan can run the gamut from big-ticket items like billboards to smaller attention-getters like special box covers, but what works best is a nod on a mainstream TV station — something Hustler managed to achieve with its parodies "This Ain't Gilligan's Island XXX" and "Who's Nailin' Paylin?" both of which were featured on television's "Extra."

Though the coverage may have been tongue-in-cheek, Hustler had no complaints because simply getting on those shows puts those titles head and shoulders above competing films in the audience awareness department.

In Hollywood, marketing budgets have grown to match — and in some cases exceed — the film's production budget. But in adult, where there's little emphasis placed on "killing it" opening weekend, marketing budgets are generally only a fraction of a film's total budget.

At Adam & Eve, marketing budgets for tent-pole movies typically hover around 10 percent of the film's total production budget. While at X-Play and All Media Play, Mullen estimates that marketing can cost as much as 15 percent.

Of course, one of the fastest ways to get that attention is to leverage an existing mainstream brand.

Hustler, which also releases a lot of parodies, is reluctant to label parodies as a sure thing, although they do concede that the right marketing strategies has its obvious advantages.

"The parodies are really popular right now," Spillers cautions. But there's still room, she says, for non-parody tent-poles, provided that the studio works with well-known names and gives fans "lots of quality sex scenes."

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