"The Hustler brand has been around for 32 years and continues to grow," Klein noted. "For the longest time, people knew of Hustler as just a magazine. It was obviously a popular, well-known magazine, and the Hustler name developed and grew into a huge empire with many different properties. When I joined the company, I saw that there were so many different elements to the Larry Flynt empire. I learned that there were so many different areas that the company was in."
Founded in 1974, Hustler magazine was the publication that put Flynt on the map as an adult entertainment mogul; today, the Hustler brand's contributions to erotic entertainment include, among other things, Hustler Video, the BDSM/fetish-oriented Hustler's Taboo, more than 20 adult websites (including the site of Barely Legal, which also is a printed magazine and series of videos), the Hustler TV channel (which Klein said is available in 34 countries) and cell phone erotica. The Hustler brand also includes a clothing line, the Hustler Casino (which opened in the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena in 2000), the rapidly growing chain of Hustler Hollywood stores and the forthcoming Hustler Bar & Grill.
Branding is not only for marketing and sales executives who work in a behind-the-scenes capacity; many adult film stars and nude models have marketed themselves as full-fledged brands. This type of branding phenomenon has enabled Jenna Jameson to market items ranging from calendars to her book "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale," and it has enabled fellow adult film star Natalie Oliveros, aka Savanna Samson, to release her own wine (Sogno Uno). Even 1950s pinup queen Bettie Page (who is now 83) has become an erotic brand. Page was very much a cult figure in her youth, but thanks to the Page revival of the 1990s and 2000s, the image of her as she looked in the 1950s (long, jet-black hair with short bangs) has been branded and used to sell DVDs, posters, clothing and many other things offered on Page's official website. CMG Worldwide, an intellectual property firm, has been marketing and managing the Bettie Page brand.
"In adult entertainment," King explained, "branding isn't only the branding of companies; it is also the girls branding themselves. Jenna, more than anybody, exemplifies an adult performer who saw the opportunity to brand her name and sell both mainstream and adult products. Jenna has used her brand to build an Internet empire with all of her websites; she is a fashion company and an Internet company and a marketing company."
Thoulouis also offered some insights on the branding of Jameson and other adult film actresses. If basketball icon Dennis Rodman can market his brand, Thoulouis asked, is there any reason why Jameson or Czech adult star Silvia Saint should not do the same? "Dennis Rodman was a basketball player, but his name sold books, magazines and a lot of other things," Thoulouis said. "And Jenna Jameson is a brand just as Dennis Rodman is a brand."
Avoiding Some Deals
King emphasized that while having a strong, viable brand can mean countless marketing possibilities; smart adult businesses are not jumping at every offer that comes along. King said that Wicked, for example, has been careful to avoid deals and alliances that would be inappropriate for the Wicked brand.
"It's fine for adult companies to diversify and offer a variety of products, but you have to stay true to what your brand represents," King said. "We're not going to make a deal just for the sake of making a deal; it has to be the right fit for Wicked and our image."
Illustrating her point, King described an offer that Wicked declined because the company felt it would not have been right for Wicked's brand.
"We spoke to a clothing company that was interested in working with us," she said. "I'm not going to name the company; they make quality products, but it was the polar opposite of what we represent. We try to promote a glamorous image for our adult features, whereas that company had more of a rough-and-tumble image. It wouldn't have been a very good fit."
King, Thoulouis and Klein all said they see no signs of the branding phenomenon slowing down in the adult entertainment industry. All of them stressed that with so many adult-oriented entrepreneurs having realized how profitable a brand can be, the branding of adult companies is here to stay.
"For consumers," Klein said, "there is a comfort level with an established brand. If a consumer can pick a name at random or go with a name they recognize, they're going to go with a name they recognize. If there is a generic name, there is a 50-50 shot they're going to go for it, but if it is a name they recognize and a name that stands for something, they're going to go with the brand they already know."