Adult Ads on the Airwaves

Erik Jay
Because of its reach and cost-effectiveness, radio advertising usually is the first step up from the print medium for adult-business advertisers. But is mainstream radio truly open to adult advertising? And what can adult industry advertisers really expect from radio today?

Debra Peterson, marketing director for adult megastore Fairvilla, says that radio advertising has been part of the company's overall marketing plan for many years. Although she said that adult companies used to be pigeonholed into certain hours of the broadcast day (such as late night), Fairvilla is now courted heavily by local broadcasters.

Fairvilla operates three retail stores in Florida and has extended its reach with a new, state-of-the-art website ( Radio advertising is central to its growth and its marketing plan, and Peterson has encountered very few problems getting ads placed. "We're very targeted," she says, "and there's been no trouble at all."

Which is surprising, considering that one of Fairvilla's main advertising venues is Clear Channel, a media conglomerate with decidedly conservative leanings. If you want to do business on radio, it's hard to avoid Clear Channel. Prior to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the company owned a mere 43 radio outlets, but today it has more than 1,200.

"When dealing with Clear Channel," Peterson admits, "I feel more comfortable with a media buyer." However, it is not because she is leery of approaching the media giant with adult-store ads; rather, an experienced buyer with strong ties to Clear Channel can negotiate better ad rates.

Fairvilla's experience with radio has been positive, but Martha Flores, founder of gay-DVD marketer MaleBox.DVD (MBD), has had a different experience.

"We have not considered radio advertising for MBD," Flores says. "Our community is the web. It's where our bread gets buttered." After concluding that the FCC had "quite a bit to say about adult radio ads," Flores decided to take a wait-and-see approach.

"Naturally," Flores adds, "satellite radio has more wiggle room in regard to what is in an adult ad because it doesn't fall under the purview of the FCC," but for now the savvy will continue to "invest in Google ads, affiliate programs and [the] other online marketing tools."

Jeff Mullen, president of marketing firm All Media Play, is continuously mapping the ever-changing media landscape. "Radio in all forms continues to be one of the best values for getting a message directly to your target consumer," he says, "but any type of adult entertainment advertising gets scrutinized to a high degree to ensure that the spots are 'playable' over the airwaves."

When done correctly, Mullen notes, "the listener gets your message loud and clear. But with satellite radio, your message can be a bit edgier." He stresses that the goal is exactly the same for any message delivered via any medium: "to talk directly to your potential customer."

Mullen emphasizes that "the product had better be something that will appeal to a wide variety of consumers, because radio campaigns can be pricey." He agrees with Fairvilla's Peterson that "radio is one important component of an overall marketing strategy."

Radio's appeal to adult marketers goes beyond advertising.

For example, All Media Play books numerous adult performers as guests on Playboy Radio, now on the Sirius satellite network, to talk about their current movies. This provides valuable exposure for production companies that consider such appearances an important ingredient in their marketing recipes. DVD rental leader SugarDVD also knows the value of having a strong "media mix," Mullen remarks, and is "very aggressive with their marketing campaigns, running commercials on both Sirius and XM Satellite Radio" along with TV spots on MTV, Spike, BET and other cable networks.

Stern Factor
There are ways to leverage the reach of radio without airing ads at so-many-dollars per second. For example, Adam & Eve ( arranged for director Tristan Taormino to bring her new Adam & Eve feature, "House of Ass," to "The Howard Stern Show" in early April.

Taormino first visited Stern's show in 1998, at which time, according to press accounts, "sparks flew — in a good way!" This latest interview, of course, was on Stern's satellite show — so, as Adam & Eve's news release affirms, there were "no pesky FCC regulations … and no holds barred." In addition, Adam & Eve arranged a "heavy dose of publicity for 'House of Ass' including Maxim Radio on Sirius" and a number of local radio stations in Syracuse, N.Y.; Denver; Albany, N.Y.; and elsewhere.

Significantly, Taormino also avails herself of emerging communications channels and has two podcasts airing in April: Porno Jim's podcast and Sam Sugar's Podnography. But radio in general, and Stern's shows in particular, are where the adult industry — publishing, movies, sex toys and the rest — first found a route into American mass media.

Interestingly, the Stern connection takes us full circle, as it was almost exactly two years ago, in April 2004, that Clear Channel dropped Stern from its radio stations after being fined $495,000 by the FCC.

"This is not a surprise," Stern commented at the time. "It is pretty shocking that governmental interference into our rights and free speech takes place in the U.S.," he added, predicting that even the "erotic literature in our libraries" would soon "fall into [the FCC's] category of 'evil' as well."

Stern was both right and wrong. The FCC may still be waging cultural warfare for the government, but it doesn't affect him anymore, as he now "flies the friendly skies" of satellite radio. At the same time, Clear Channel has welcomed more and more adult advertising, although it certainly doesn't let advertisers get anywhere near as racy as it let Stern get — for a while, anyway.

Still, Fairvilla's Peterson says, there's plenty of room to "write clever, fun, spicy ads. As long as we keep tight control on the copy, it's not an issue anymore."

As the years pass and the mainstreaming of adult entertainment continues apace, that phrase may become every media buyer's stock response to an adult advertiser's questions about ad copy: "It's not an issue anymore."

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