Marketing lessons from 18+ websites and brands who advertise on them

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Deel de kennis:

USA election week everyone! Past history taught us that calling the coming election “The most important election of our lifetime” is no less of a cliché than saying Christmas time is the most wonderful time of the year. The difference is, this time said cliche might be true. 

Then how is it possible that during what seems to be the most critical moment in modern history, part of the spotlight has been stolen by the number one adult website’s latest campaign? 

Wait, what?!

In a last attempt to urge people to vote, Pornhub decided to close its door to those who did not go out and vote. In other words, on election day, Pornhub is reserved to voters only. Can you think of anything more patriotic?

This advertising masterpiece from Just For Fun – the Californian advertising agency that worked on the voting campaign – is not to be seen as an isolated incident. It’s not the first time, in fact, that Pornhub hits the marketing news. 

Last year, Unilever faced public criticism when one of its brands picked the 18+ website as its advertising platform of choice. The bold move came from the headquarters of Dollar Shave Club, a brand well known to us marketing geeks for its groundbreaking video marketing strategy. (if you have never seen the video, watch it here).  

Let’s give a bit of context. In 2019, DSC and its main competitor Gillette were running head to head, when Gillette launched a controversial ad that got a big judgemental reaction. The message of the campaign was in line with the #metoo movement but it backfired as some men felt judged and personally attacked by the brand.

Dollar shave club rode the criticism wave with a campaign that positioned the brand on “every guy’s side”. They placed a banner on Pornhub that basically said: “Hey, we’ve got your back”. Men loved it.

In an interview with the marketing journal Mi3, Matt Knapp, Dollar Shave Club CEO, stated that they just wanted the brand to be where most men are, hence the choice of the biggest adult content website. Not only be there, but be there together with their customer: “We’re here to tell you Dollar Shave Club has more than razors.  This ad is also an escape hatch if someone walks in on you.” 

In the same interview, Knapp talked about some of the reasons why that display campaign was so successful. From the huge exposure and impressions to the low CPMs and high customer acquisition, and in case you were wondering, it defined the operation as “not expensive”. This last point is particularly relevant if compared to what the CEO thinks of Facebook advertising, “much more expensive and more competitive”. Dollar Shave Club, like the rest of the world, still advertises on Facebook. The fact that they are finding new ways to bring the brand to customers, does not mean they instantly dropped the biggest social network. Even though it is still a big channel for them, it is nothing compared to the growth that they could experience during the first moments of FB Ads. But Facebook’s advertising market ended up being way too competitive and saturated that the shaving brand had to go find something new. 

When sales critically dropped, they had to rethink how to make people want the product, and the solution was going beyond merely selling the product, making it about selling a shared purpose, a feeling, hence the decision to diversify how to present the brand to the public. 

The idea itself was brilliant, the choice of platform perfect.

Where problems began

Dollar Shave Club is not advertising on Pornhub anymore and the operation was publicly condemned by Unilever, who acquired the shaving brand back in 2016. DSC maintained operational independence after the acquisition, during an interview dated May 2019, Knapp himself talked about a representative from Unilever reaching out about the campaign, and the enormous freedom granted them. Things changed after a Sunday Times investigation, that raised concerns about the presence of illegal or dangerous material on the website and called out Unilever-owned Kraft Heinz and DSC for supporting the website. In 2018, chief marketing officer Keith Weed stated Unilever would invest in online platforms that create division and are not “committed to creating a positive impact in society”. Operational independence was declared not enough of a reason to advertise on such a controversial platform, according to Unilever, that after facing press criticism, pledged no more campaigns will be run on adult websites. A few months later, in November 2019, Unilever distanced itself from Pornhub denying any involvement in Dollar Shave Club’s advertising activity. 

“We don’t support advertising on porn sites, and we are extremely concerned about the content that The Sunday Times shared with us.  “The Dollar Shave Club team ran a limited-time campaign on Pornhub earlier this year, which is no longer live. At the time, Unilever was not aware of the campaign. This type of content is deeply troubling, and we will ensure that none of our brands advertise on Pornhub again, or on any other porn sites.”

Pornhub addressed the allegations, stressing their commitment to find and ban content that does not comply with the regulations and the presence of a “robust” system to identify illegal material. They are also known for their efforts to be seen not just as a distributor of adult material, and that in terms of “commitment to creating a positive impact in society”, they have offered sex education for seniors, ran female empowerment campaigns, they created a channel of “bee porn” in an effort to help increase the endangered bee populations and their last social initiative resulted in giving away 300k worth of free advertising, for a total of  1 billion ad impressions and 120 million visitors per day,  in an attempt to help 100 small businesses across the world who were badly affected by the recent corona outbreak. “Yes, their customers are on Facebook, but they’re also on Pornhub. They might not remember seeing your business on Facebook, but they’ll definitely remember seeing you on Pornhub.” Pornhub Vice President Corey Price in an interview to The Post


There are pro’s and cons of using such a controversial site for advertising, different brands have different needs and your choice in terms of advertising platform should reflect both your brand and your audience’s identity. 

People could always argue that if this kind of collaboration goes against your morals and you want your brand to be associated with businesses who only make a positive impact, then your moral compass should also drive you away from Youtube or Facebook, known for taking little to none responsibility for the content posted, from hate speech, incitement of rape and terrorism fake news,  to the live stream of the so-called “Facebook murders”, crimes, stalking and violence.

Nevertheless, we are not here to argue that. Paid advertising has become more and more personal throughout the years, it’s about building relationships with your customers and at the end of the day it all comes down to deciding the approach that suits best your company’s values and desires.

When thinking about how to bring the product to your audience, the choice of the advertising channel plays not only is crucial but plays a big role in how a brand is perceived. Dollar Shave Club knew there were going to be some detractors, but the expected positive return was big enough to take the risk.

We are far from telling you advertising on porn sites is the right solution for your business. But that made us wonder. How many Pornhubs are out there? We are not talking about adult content websites, but untapped potential traffic channels, sites where ROI is higher and CPCs are lower. We felt like there is not enough choice when it comes to paid advertising channels and 90% of businesses end up completely relying on Facebook and Google, where competition now is as high as ever.

As a growth hacking agency, we firmly believe diversifying is crucial. It’s true, your clients and potential customers are on Facebook and Google. But they’re not only there. They are on LinkedIn, on Quora, on Academia, they are even on Pornhub, whether you like it or not. It’s just about finding them, and there’s a list that will help you doing just that. is a cheat sheet of 200 channels that would probably not come to your mind when you hear the words paid advertising. The idea for the project stems from the desire to look beyond the same, old faces on the advertising scene.
Your best opportunities to reach your target audience might lie somewhere in that list. Curious to check it out? 

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