May 20, 2014 · 2 minutes

Last March, the massive adult content repository Pornhub (NSFW) announced a unique advertising strategy: It called upon its ample user base to create "Safe-For-Work" Pornhub advertisements. The winning amateur ad woman or man would become the site's first-ever Creative Director, and now this week, Pornhub has unleashed the finalists to the public. We have to admit, some of them are pretty clever. I mean, they're better than that sperm bank ad, anyway.


When I spoke to Pando writer and web ad savant James Robinson after Pornhub first launched the contest, he suggested there's no small amount of gimmickry behind the campaign. Despite VP Corey Price's confidence that his site can break through to mainstream magazines and even television, it's not a foregone conclusion that these mediums will ever come around to host adult-oriented ads. Even web advertising is a challenge for adult sites: Facebook, which for whatever reason has taken a more puritanical approach than other social networks, bans users from sharing Pornhub links, even in private messages.

By calling on users to make ads and dangling a job opportunity in front of them, however, the company creates viral potential for its ad campaign in the absence of more traditional advertising channels. These ads may never make it inside the pages of Rolling Stone, on a subway platform, or in a Super Bowl spot. But that doesn't matter. As I wrote last March, "Pornhub isn’t so much looking for a national ad campaign because it’s already begun: this is the ad campaign."

everybodydoesitSome of the finalists are surprisingly elegant. One user submitted a series of simple, pleasantly-framed photos of men and women of all ages with the caption #everybodydoesit. Like Venmo's "Lucas" ads but less intense and therefore far more effective, the photos attach a feeling of homeyness and comfortability to our basest temptations. Or as "Mad Men"'s Don Draper puts it in his famous credo on the art of advertising, "It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you're doing is OK. You are OK."

Like MeUndies' clever avoidance of Facebook's decency policies, Pornhub has found a creative way to sidestep obstacles that limit its advertising potential. Sure, a clever Tumblr will never have the reach of a well-placed television ad. But as a user engagement play and as a way to market itself on platforms other than porn sites or mail-order bride marketplaces, this campaign is a success – not that Pornhub has to worry much about its users' level of engagement.