Making it Big

So you've made a great adult movie and you're ready to watch the big bucks roll in. After all, doesn't porn just sell itself?

Of course, it's not that simple. Competition is fierce. Shelf space is tight and it's easy to get lost among the thousands of new releases that are produced every year. That's where a savvy marketing plan comes in. In an age where the budget on an adult title can go into the hundreds of thousands, marketing may be every bit as important as the quality of the actual product — or even more important.

Just what can an adult publicist do to make sure the big-budget movie actually becomes a blockbuster? It comes down to a great product backed up by a long-range marketing plan. And a little luck doesn't hurt.

While it's the end user who ultimately makes the purchase from the retailer, the distributor and retailer must buy into the hype before the title makes it that far. A movie actually is sold three times before the consumer plunks down his or her cash: the concept is sold to the producer, the DVD is sold to the distributor, and the distributor then must sell it to the retailer.

"If you can hit a chord with the buyer on the other end of the phone that he's heard of it or he thinks he's heard of it or it sounds familiar, he's more likely to take multiple copies than pass," said Jeff Mullen, president of All Media Play and X-Play.

Joy King, vice president of special projects at Wicked Pictures, agreed that targeting the distribution chain is an important part of the process.

"Part of the big push to get to the retailers to get to the consumers is to get the distributors excited about it," King said. "To get them excited about it you need to have a product that really sells. It's going to sell if it gets a good review and on top of that if it has something different, unique and interesting about the packaging that sets it apart from other products on the shelves."

Wicked puts a lot of thought into packaging. For example, the recently released "The Craving" included a booklet and a bookmark, because it's based on "Grimm's Fairy Tales."

"We do things that are very connected to the product and that make it stand apart from other products," King said. "When the consumer picks it up they may not even necessarily know the cool things they're going to get inside the package, but when they get it home they're going to feel the experience of the entire project firsthand."

While some of these major productions may take a long time to shoot, the marketing and promotion is in place from the beginning. While the occasional lucky fluke might push a title over the top, more often the plan is in place before the first scenes are shot.

"You need to have the patience and the confidence to do it," Brian Gross, president and owner of BSG Public Relations, said. "You have to take the time. 'Pirates' is still selling because it took time to come together, it took time to create, it took time to market and promote. You don't do something like that overnight.

King agreed that marketing is a substantially important part of planning for a major movie.

"I don't think you can create a blockbuster without conceptualizing what your marketing strategy is going to be from the very beginning," she said.

Last year All Media Play did the marketing for SexZ Pictures' breakout hit "Corruption" and this fall Mullen has been riding a wave of mainstream publicity for X-Play/Hustler Video's "Not the Bradys XXX."

For the latter, the excitable publicist's movie had the good fortune to come out at the same time as reports surfaced that "The Brady Bunch" stars Maureen McCormick and Eve Plumb, better known as Marcia and Jan Brady, had a lesbian affair while working on the show.

While McCormick does have a book coming out next year, her publisher denied there would be any Sapphic bombshells. Either way, it gave the X-Play title more mainstream attention than Mullen could have dreamed of.

"Great timing is part of my genius," Mullen said.

"Marketing comes down to reaching the audience," he continued. "Our attack is based on what the project looks like and what it needs and each attack is slightly different. In the end we're still all trying to reach the end consumer. You do that either by reaching the buyers or by actually reaching the end consumers themselves.

"In the case of the Bradys, we're doing both right now. We're reaching the buyer via TV and radio, and we're reaching the person that makes the choices on the store shelves, and that helps influence the buyer."

Gross boasts a client list that includes Adam & Eve Pictures, which along with Digital Playground co-produced "Pirates," the most successful release in the past two years. Gross said the goal is always to reach as large an audience as humanly possible.

"There are a lot of people out there who have an interest in pornography but don't read porn magazines," Gross said. "When it's fed to them through other avenues, there's interest. Part of creating the blockbuster is doing something that can lend itself to getting the type of attention we're looking for."

Today, the Internet plays a bigger role than ever in marketing, especially in the formats that are driven by the mainstream like YouTube and MySpace. Wicked now makes a point of creating soft trailers for new releases that can run on sites that don't otherwise allow adult fare. King said the number of views some of them received has impressed the company. At press time, an "Operation: Desert Stormy" trailer on YouTube had more than 115,000 views.

"I think the web has a lot to do with it, the use of YouTube and MySpace certainly have a significant role," Gross said. "We create special trailers that are super soft that we can put on those sites to create interest in the project."

King said that mainstream coverage is always part of the strategy for a release. The Wicked contract performer system comes in handy, since the company can dispatch stars like Stormy Daniels and Jessica Drake for promotional purposes.

"We have the girls out on the road doing radio shows when they're doing store signings," King said. "We've launched huge store signing campaigns for our three big movies this year, and literally these girls are going all over the world promoting these movies. This is a global effort, it's not just something here in the U.S. where we're sending a girl to a store and hoping they promote it. They're promoting it on their dance gigs, when they go to towns to do these dance gigs, they're doing radio; it's definitely part of the big picture."

There is an exception to every rule. Evil Angel does very little in the way of promoting individual titles, instead opting for on ongoing campaign promoting the EA brand.

Still, when the company put out the half-million dollar production "Fashionistas," certainly they had a more wide-ranging marketing plan, right?

"We didn't do a lot different," Evil Angel publicist Tricia Devereaux said. "We made posters; we had Belladonna signing at stores, which was really above and beyond what we do for a normal release. We did a few more radio interviews than we normally do. That's about it."

Devereaux said that they were confident that if John Stagliano shot arguably the best movie he had ever made, with its all-star cast, that it would outsell everything else in the company's catalog. And it worked: A title that was forecast as a loss leader has gone on to turn a profit as big as its budget, spawned a Vegas show and still sells briskly.

"We tend to be a lot more about brand name and consistency," Devereaux said, "so we tend to market the company more. Our company has always been more about word of mouth. Because our content is a little bit harder, we know that our demographic isn't going to be the person who watches only one movie a year. We think that the people who identify with our product are the people who are used to watching porn a little bit more."

There is one thing that the marketing gurus could all agree on: The most important part of creating a blockbuster is producing a superior product.

"Knowing you have good product is the key," Mullen said. "People can make shit product all they want; this world is full of shit product both in mainstream and in porn, but when you have something that's good it makes it a lot easier to market."

Publicists are quick to concede that media — both adult and mainstream — just like distributors and buyers, will tire quickly if every movie is pitched as the greatest movie ever.

"There's so much competition out there that you have to take advantage of every possible opportunity imaginable," Gross said. "You're working against all of the odds anyway. I believe there are two secrets: make a really great movie and follow through. That's it. And you need a little bit of luck in everything in life, too."

Mullen, who is one of the industry's most relentless promoters, knows that part of his job is simply to get the conversation started.

"We just try to talk about it with everybody. If we don't talk about it, who's going to start the discussion?" Mullen said. "People get sick of us, but nobody had a better year than we had last year."