Using Mainstream to Promote Adult

Adult webmasters often use other adult websites as a promotional tool, but there is another place that some webmasters are going to promote their adult sites: mainstream websites. From YouTube to MySpace to Facebook, a variety of mainstream social networking sites that do not offer or allow explicit adult content are being used to point Internet surfers in the direction of sites that do.

Some adult webmasters consider mainstream websites a waste of time when it comes to promotional campaigns, which can range from advertising to posting clips and trailers; they reason that if a site forbids the very thing they are selling – sexually explicit material – it won't do them any good. But the adult Internet experts who were interviewed for this article said that adult webmasters can, in fact, use mainstream websites to their promotional and marketing advantage if they go about it the right way.

"There are numerous ways that can be used to leverage mainstream traffic and convert it into adult," said adult webmaster Charles Michael, aka WiredGuy. "Sites like YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and other social networks all receive millions of hits per day and show no signs of slowing down. More importantly, these sites have the incredible ability to target users based on extremely precise demographics; when a user registers a profile on one of these social networks, they instantly volunteer their gender, age, city, country, etc. In turn, this information can be used to target your audience more precisely."

The popular video-sharing site YouTube is full of clips promoting adult websites, but whether those clips stay on YouTube or are promptly removed by YouTube's employees depends on whether or not an adult webmaster follows YouTube's rules – and YouTube is very good about enforcing its strict no-nudity policy. Adult webmasters who have violated that policy by posting clips showing penises, vaginas or bare breasts have found that YouTube does not hesitate to remove any clips it considers inappropriate for a mainstream audience.

Harlan Yaffe, president of the gay-oriented, Miami-based affiliate program PrideBucks, stressed that if an adult webmaster is going to use mainstream sites effectively, he/she must be careful to adhere to the sites' policies and restrictions. Yaffe said that while that might seem like common sense, too many adult webmasters tend to forget that what is acceptable on an adult website and what is acceptable on a mainstream website are two different things.

"In adult, the traditional thinking is that your trailers have to be hot enough to get people to sign up," Yaffe said. "But if you're promoting yourself on mainstream sites, you need to have a different way of thinking. If you're going to use mainstream websites to promote adult content, you really need to take the time and effort to dial it down according to their rules. Mainstream websites are a whole different tune, and you either dance to it or you don't."

Yaffe added that some adult webmasters who post material on YouTube and similar video-sharing sites will try to push the envelope and see how much they can get away with. But if adult webmasters are going to invest time and energy into using mainstream sites as promotional vehicles, Yaffe said, it is best to do as much as they can to decrease the chances of that material being removed – and that means posting material that, although titillating, is still appropriate for mainstream sites.

"It is counterproductive to post a clip on YouTube that is likely to be removed for violation of the rules," Yaffe said. "All of the time you spent putting the clip up there was wasted. The thing about using mainstream sites to promote adult content is that you supply them with things according to their rules; otherwise, you're just wasting your time. That's why you need to come up with PG versions of your video trailers that are not going to be taken down. You need to have PGs version that you are creating specifically for YouTube and MySpace and other mainstream sites."

And, in fact, YouTube has plenty of clips from adult webmasters that are titillating without being explicit – clips promoting everything from vanilla heterosexual adult sites to vanilla gay adult sites to a variety of BDSM sites. is an example of a BDSM site that has been promoting itself on YouTube; the softcore clips that has posted on YouTube are erotic without being explicit, and seems to have made a sincere effort to obey YouTube's restrictions. Similarly, YouTube contains many interviews with adult stars, but those interviews are no more explicit than what one typically sees on MTV or VH1.

"As far as using mainstream websites to promote adult content, it needs to be things like bloopers and behind-the-scenes outtakes – or perhaps interviews with models," Yaffe said. "It needs to be things that would be acceptable in other mainstream places."

Many adult webmasters believe that taking the time to put together promotional material that is specifically designed for mainstream sites is too much trouble, but Paul LaPointe, marketing specialist for and PlugIn Feeds, believes that adult webmasters who automatically rule out mainstream sites as a promotional tool are making a mistake.

"Mainstream offers many opportunities to adult websites as a fairly untapped resource," LaPointe noted. "Because of the difficulties with getting onto a mainstream site, the competition once there is fairly low – thus allotting for higher potential gain."

LaPointe went on to say: "Mainstream sites such as YouTube, MySpace and Manhunt are becoming increasingly valuable to adult websites because of their vast, diverse audience. When advertising on other adult-related sites, competition is fierce – whereas when you are one of the few adult sites on a website next to mainstream ads, you tend to stand out more."

Yaffe stressed that adult webmasters using mainstream sites to promote their adult sites need to determine how much traffic those mainstream sites are ultimately pointing in their direction – and one way to do that is by creating what Yaffe describes as "a hybrid of your domain."

Let's say, for example, that an adult Internet company establishes a primary URL of (at the time this article was written, no such URL actually exists). If that company is using YouTube for promotional purposes, Yaffe would not recommend listing on YouTube but rather, a variation such as That way, the adult company would be able to take a look at the number of hits that the hybrid was receiving and gauge how much attention they were getting on YouTube. And perhaps a hybrid of could be used on MySpace in order to evaluate MySpace's promotional effectiveness.

"You should use a hybrid of your domain that is the only place you are going to send traffic from a mainstream site to," Yaffe said. "Then, you will have some idea of how effective that traffic is. Does the mainstream site make them get to your adult site, and once they get to your adult site, what kind of click-through ratio do you have? If you don't know how much traffic you are getting from a particular mainstream site, you are flying blind. But if you are able to isolate that traffic, you will have a much better idea of whether your efforts to promote yourself on a mainstream site are successful or not."

Whether mainstream sites do or don't allow linking to other sites can vary from one mainstream site to another. But even if a mainstream site does allow linking, Michael does not recommend leading surfers from a mainstream site directly to an ultra-explicit hardcore adult site.

"Sites like YouTube do allow linking," Michael said, "but never link directly to your adult sites. Create a softcore version of your videos/sites, which you can then use to link to the more explicit versions. Remember that mainstream advertising is not the same as adult; your audience is much larger and not necessarily looking for hardcore pornography."

Yaffe and Michael both emphasized that for adult webmasters, a crucial part of using mainstream sites as promotional tools is branding; if an adult webmaster posts an abundance of mainstream-friendly clips on YouTube or does a lot of advertising on mainstream sites, Yaffe and Michael said, it is important that the company's brand shows up over and over and leaves a lasting impression on surfers.

Adult Internet companies need to look at the big picture when they are using mainstream sites to promote and market themselves, they said – and that means not only promoting a particular adult model or a particular adult website, but also, promoting their brand on the whole.

"I think that a large part of the value of the mainstream social networking sites can be just plain old branding," Yaffe said. "You want to make surfers aware of your brand and make them remember your brand – and when they see your banner or your brand again on an adult site, you want them to say, 'Hey, they are the ones who have those really funny bloopers on YouTube.' And you have to have the tenacity to see it through in order to find out what ultimately works."

"Tenacity," according to Yaffe, is exactly what adult webmasters will need if they are using mainstream sites to promote adult sites because in a sense, they are making two sales: the "PG clips" they post on mainstream sites, he said, have to be clever, funny, interesting or creative enough to make them want to leave the mainstream site and check out the adult site – that's the first "sale," figuratively speaking – and once they get to the adult site, surfers have to be impressed enough for the actual sale to take place. They have to be inspired to get out their credit cards and spend some money.

"The guerilla marketing that you can do by putting up a funny, memorable, interesting clip on a mainstream site could be invaluable," Yaffe said, "but your clips have to be memorable enough for them to want to visit your adult site. When they're on the mainstream site, you have to appeal to their curiosity and make them say, 'I want to see the uncensored version of this' – and then, you need to sell them again once they get to your adult site, which is why your tours have to be really sharp. For those of us who are in the adult industry, what it comes down to with mainstream sites is a question of whether or not it is cost-effective – and do you have the time to learn a new way of marketing?"

One of the reasons adult webmasters find it challenging to promote themselves on mainstream sites, LaPointe said, is the fact that they simply are not used to promoting themselves outside of a porn-oriented environment. For example, they know how to put together a quality ad for adult venues but have not mastered mainstream advertising techniques. However, adult webmasters who learn to "think outside the porn box," LaPointe said, can use mainstream sites to their promotional advantage regardless of the restrictions.

"Many sites like YouTube and MySpace have restrictions in place that make it difficult for adult sites to advertise," LaPointe said. "They have restrictions like no nudity, no sexual acts and the big, all-encompassing no pornography. The trick is making these sites work for you by playing by their rules. It is possible to advertise on these sites as long as you rethink your advertising to fit with the mainstream audience. You see this in ads all the time; they push sex in their ad, but don't come right out and say it. They do it in a way that lets them only hint at it, thus arousing the surfer's curiosity."

Mainstream advertisers, in fact, have been using softcore titillation to sell everything from beer to laundry detergent to fitness equipment to cosmetics. You won't see a bare breast in a beer commercial, but that doesn't mean that beer companies aren't using softcore titillation to sell their product. And even though you won't see Penelope Cruz undressing in a L'Oreal commercial, that doesn't mean that L'Oreal Paris isn't using the Spanish actress' sex appeal to profit from female consumers. Adult webmasters, LaPointe said, need to take a hint from mainstream advertisers when they advertise on mainstream websites – regardless of the fact that the product they are selling is hardcore adult entertainment.

"In the adult industry," LaPointe said, "we often times follow the idea that more is better – more skin, more explicit, etc. But in mainstream, less is truly more if you want to play ball."