Pornhub holiday ad is part of a larger, longer strategy

Be the first to comment

With help from Madrid agency Officer & Gentleman, adult site seeks to become the Playboy of modern porn

The best holiday ads are both subtle and memorable, promoting their product but also spreading good cheer. By those measures, there’s no beating this year’s Christmas spot for the NSFW subscription streaming service Pornhub Premium, which has so far racked up more than 5 million views in two weeks. Take a look.

What’s that? You’ve never heard of Pornhub, and neither has anyone in your office or family? That’s odd for a website that gets 45 million visitors every day. It’s also a branding obstacle Pornhub has worked hard to overcome. To do that, the company is relying heavily on a small Spanish shop, Madrid-based agency Officer & Gentleman.

"Playboy is a dirty magazine, but girls ride around with Playboy shirts on and Playboy stickers on their backpack and nobody seems to mind," said Alex Katz, art director at O&G. "Nobody really gives it that connotation anymore. And we thought that Pornhub could be a brand that could do that for porn."

That thinking represents a strategic shift from Pornhub’s previous headline-friendly executions. For Arbor Day in 2014, the site planted a tree for every 100 views of videos featuring well-endowed men (15,000 trees got planted; do the math). Earlier this year, McCann created a risqué testicular cancer PSA for Pornhub encouraging men to "Save the Balls." A few months after that, Pornhub attempted to use Indiegogo to crowdfund the first explicit film to be shot in space (an effort that fell flat). And Vendetta Studios’ video for Topco’s "Twerking Butt" adult toy — crafted specifically for Pornhub — has garnered more than 1.5 million views since July 2015.                                                                                                           

But O&G’s two-man team — Katz, an American, and Spanish copywriter Javi Iñiguez de Onzoño — has created a series of squeaky-clean online ads for Pornhub over the past year. Previous videos in the series featured fairly banal situations, interrupted when someone mentions the Pornhub Premium subscription service as a metaphor for high-quality goods. The holiday ad is less sexy than a Macy’s circular.

"We wanted to make stuff for Pornhub that absolutely everyone can share and that can get picked up by news organizations. We wanted to see if we could come out in legit newspapers," Katz said. "We knew with Pornhub if we ever made anything kind of raunchy and dirty that we were just shooting ourselves in the foot. Not even that people wouldn’t want to share it, but they couldn’t in some social networks." (Facebook and Instagram have a reputation for being overzealous in removing content they deem too sexual.)

"You can have a taboo topic and package it in a way that is safe for work and mainstream," said Corey Price, vice president at Pornhub. "It’s all about execution, and it’s one of the reasons why we utilize Officer & Gentleman."

In 2014, Pornhub began accepting submissions for a safe-for-work ad contest with a yearlong contract as global creative director for the prize. Iñiguez de Onzoño and Katz submitted a video detailing a plan for porn-branded digital currency that rhymes with Bitcoin (NSFW). Though they were disqualified because the video isn’t quite work-friendly, they did receive an offer to work with Pornhub.

Several months later, they officially presented a proposal for the Wankband, a wrist-worn motion-powered battery that "allows you to love the planet, by loving yourself."

"With a lot of these big brands, what you’re selling is a complicated product — a phone, or we did a project for Microsoft Surface — where they want you to talk about 20 different features, and here we work basically on a message, which is the best part," Katz said. "We’re working on just doing basic branding for the company, even when we’re selling a product."

O&G submitted the script for the holiday ad to Pornhub in the spring of this year, and the ad they eventually shot remained entirely unchanged from that first submission. "We wanted to do a sappy Christmas commercial," Katz said. "We wanted it to look like spots you’d see on TV. That relates to the whole idea behind Pornhub Premium. You’re asking people to pay for something they’re used to getting for free."

But shooting in Spain kept costs down. "Think, ‘It’s low budget,’ " Katz advised, without giving specific numbers.

"Really low budget," Iñiguez de Onzoño added. "In Spain, it’s low budget."

"Whatever you would think it would cost to do a spot in the States, it’s probably 10% of that," Katz clarified.

They found a house in Barcelona for the set, a common shooting location thanks to plenty of international-looking, English-speaking actors and neighborhoods that look like Los Angeles. "You guys created the Christmas ad," Iñiguez de Onzoño said. The gift card featured in the ad was an O&G epiphany now sold by Pornhub. Results have been lucrative.

"Since the commercial debuted, we have seen a 32% increase in subscriptions compared to the prior period," Price said. "There have been thousands of gift cards purchased to date."

The Pornhub campaign has been the most successful yet for O&G, which was founded in 2014, though the pair has been a team for five years. But they’ve worked with larger clients, often in the tech industry. They say technical innovation is a hallmark of their work: they’ve created 360-degree music videos for Microsoft Surface, taken a paraplegic on a virtual reality motorcycle ride for Samsung and used MINIs to knock over giant inflatable pins for car bowling.

Branding Pornhub has also helped to brand O&G. "Everyone likes the work we’ve been doing for them, and now anyone new we get, usually we get the call because of what we’ve done for Pornhub, because in the end, what a lot of them want is viral work," Katz said.

Not that the relationship is exclusive. "Currently, we are looking at proposals from several agencies regarding future campaigns," said Pornhub’s Price. But O&G is continuing to produce new work for the client, both parties said.

"Things are moving really fast nowadays, so you have to take it or leave it. So we decided to go for it, and that’s it," Iñiguez de Onzoño said. "We don’t think it’s a risky move going ahead being the Pornhub guys."

"And we get free memberships," Katz added. "If being the Pornhub guys gets us into more projects, doing innovation work, then we’re completely happy with it. As long as people see that the other thing that interests us is creating a creative strategy as well."

For all their success, the two men say they’ve heard whispered gossip from other agencies and received backhanded compliments to their faces. But the client is happy.

"We have a great rapport with Officer & Gentleman," Price said. "They understand what we’re looking for and are able to transform our ideas into a reality. They bring a unique vantage point to the table with a special kind of creativity and originality that make for highly successful ads."

And their families are supportive, too. "My wife loves it," Iñiguez de Onzoño said. "As long as I don’t hang out with porn stars or anything, she’s happy with that. She’s been the head of Esquire for five years, so she’s always surrounded by the most attractive men in the world, so she can’t complain."

"My mom loves the ads, all of them," Katz said. "She’s my mom, so you would think she just loves everything I do, but she doesn’t. She showed it to my grandmother who’s 95 years old and lives in Canada, and she loves them, too. She has to explain what a porn website is, first of all, but we’re a pretty liberal family."

And the public is happy. "Our favorite comment online is, ‘Whoever does marketing for Pornhub should get a raise,’ " Katz said. "We’re going to share that one with the client."


The latest work, news, advice, comment and analysis, sent to you every day

register free

Campaign Jobs

Thousands of jobs across advertising, creative, marketing and media

Trending on Campaign


The Hub 
Marketing Tech News