Marketing Crossover Appeal

Sam Williams
It's a Friday morning, and your top actress is, by her own admission, "really high" and dropping f-bombs left and right in a live radio interview. As a publicity-conscious entertainment industry executive, what do you do?

If you're Sean Logan of Nectar Entertainment, the actress in question is Taylor Rain, and the appearance is the best part of the Hush DVD-sponsored "Miss Porn Star Beauty Pageant" segment airing nationally on the "The Howard Stern Show," you thank the porn gods and tell the web team to brace the servers for a long weekend.

"We were very excited," Logan said, looking back. "When we started looking at the traffic going up and then the orders going up, we were even more excited. By the end of the day, it was one of those things where everybody was walking around with smiles on their faces."

Thirty years after the making of the film "Deep Throat," the marketing of pornography to mainstream audiences is still an art form based on tweaking the latest taboos. With Congress threatening stiffer fines for broadcasters who air profanity and sexually suggestive content, however, you'd think most publicists and marketers would be shaking their heads in frustration.

Far from it.

Many adult marketers see 2005, much like 1975, as a once-in-a-generation chance to rewrite the rules and expand the market for big stars to even bigger audiences.

"I think the FCC is ultimately going to lose momentum," predicts Adella O'Neal, director of publicity and marketing for Digital Playground. "If you can do things that violate [federal] restrictions, it's great radio. For free radio stations to be competitive with the Sirius and the XM of the world, they're going to need the FCC to relax."

Jesse Jane Appearance
Not that O'Neal hasn't felt the chill. In the weeks immediately following Janet Jackson's Super Bowl nipple exposure, she said the radio bookings for Digital Playground's contract players dropped significantly, putting a momentary crimp in promotions. Still, over the past six months, the chill has given way to a warming trend. As proof, O'Neal cites a recent Dallas in-store appearance for Odyssey Video Stores involving contract player Jesse Jane, a Texas native whom the company brazenly markets as an all-American blonde.

"Jesse did four stations before her first signing, and a fifth radio station came down to broadcast the actual event," O'Neal said. "She just rocked it."

Daniel Metcalf, publicist for Wicked Pictures, shares the sentiment that mainstream radio, in order to stay competitive, will need the heat that the porn industry so easily provides. In the meantime, however, his company is enjoying its relationship with pay-only media. Last year's work with the HBO documentary series "Pornucopia," for example, provided a rare opportunity for cross branding. Wicked gave "Pornucopia" producers extensive filming access to the in-production comedy, "Space Nuts." HBO producers rewarded the favor by making "Space Nuts" a centerpiece of their own storyline.

"Pornucopia" came out later than "Space Nuts," negating the opportunity to build advance buzz. Still, Metcalf said, the resulting viewer interest was enough to make it one of Wicked's best-selling films for the year.

"When the PR for 'Pornucopia' broke, we suddenly watched 'Space Nuts' jump back on the sales charts and back in the top 10," Metcalf said.

For those who prefer the guerrilla marketing approach, the shifting boundary between "appropriate" and "inappropriate" content has created its own opportunities.

One way to circumvent taboos is to latch onto an existing news story and leave the mainstream media no choice but to cover it. Witness the ongoing political career of Mary Carey, Kick Ass Pictures contract girl, former California gubernatorial candidate and Brandweek's "Guerrilla Marketer of the Year" for 2004.

Kick Ass chief Mark Kulkis, the porn industry's answer to Karl Rove, believes the strategic overview of the campaign was blindingly simple.

"If you can get a real issue plus put the titties on the screen, the media is going to find it hard to resist," he said.

Then again, Kulkis added, it helps to have a star performer like Carey who can speak intelligently and passionately on her campaign's core issue: the defense of the natural female breast.

Kulkis likens the company's recent "Boobs not Bullets" protest — inspired by an August New Yorker story about the U.S. military subsidizing female service members' breast augmentation surgery as an incentive for extended enlistment — to that of a big-wave surfer.

Less than a month after the story's release, Carey already was offering a Kick Ass counteroffer of a $1,000 worth of natural beauty enhancements to any woman who turned down the offer on Fox News program "Hannity & Colmes."

"You've got to be smart and aware that something's coming down the pike," Kulkis said. "When the story came out in the New Yorker, I was like, 'Here's a wave I can ride.'"

That such stunts often work their way to the top of the media food chain is further proof of the continued "mainstreaming" of porn, Kulkis said.

KB's Take
Kevin "KB" Blatt, the marketer who helped Marvad Corp. build a quick Internet brand name off of Paris Hilton's first sex tape in 2003, said the career trajectory of Hilton following that release has forced celebrities and porn companies alike to reassess the odds when it comes to disseminating such material. Blatt said he already has encountered examples of celebrity representatives shopping tapes with deliberate intention of creating buzz or reviving careers, and he has no doubt that more bombshell revelations are on the way.

"Celebrity sex tapes will never get old, just like celebrity tabloids will never get old," Blatt said. "Why? Because as a society, we are fascinated by celebrities. I think the next tape, whether it be Star Jones or Janet Jackson, will garner just as much attention as the Paris Hilton tape."