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The race to get raunchy as brands explore Pornhub and Grindr

As advertising opportunities rise on porn sites and “dating” apps, should fashion brands learn how to hook up?


Diesel spring 16

Sex sells, so the saying goes. And it’s safe to say that the fashion industry has certainly explored its sexuality. Who can forget Calvin Klein’s suggestive ads featuring a topless “Marky” Mark Wahlberg posing with a “handful” of his CK underwear, or Armani’s steamy shots of a semi-naked Victoria and David Beckham with a cameo from “golden balls”, or Tom Ford’s controversial Gucci images featuring pubic hair shaved into the brand’s logo? And last month, Vivienne Westwood revealed her spring 16 advertising campaign featuring gay male porn star Colby Keller in a thong and not much else. Fashion has been using sex to sell its wares for decades.

Now, in the age of digital engagement, fashion is using sex  in a much more direct way. As brands search for new ways to seduce consumers, particularly the hyper-connected digitally obsessed millennial generation, some are experimenting and hooking up with unexpected and formerly” taboo partners.

Most recently Italian label Diesel raised eyebrows with its spring 16 advertising campaign, which includes cheeky slogans such as “I can’t stop re-touching myself” and “Always turned on”.

However, it is the medium rather than the message that has caused the biggest stir. Nicola Formichetti, Diesel’s artistic director and former Lady Gaga stylist, announced the ads would debut on porn websites including Pornhub – reportedly becoming the first mainstream fashion brand to do so.

Pornhub is one of the biggest adult video streaming sites. It is the 67th most visited website in the world and has more visitors than Amazon UK and BBC Online (as of August 11 2015, as reported by Alexa Internet). It attracted 87 billion video views in 2015 – more than 60 million visits a day and 2.4 million an hour. The UK is its second-highest source of web traffic after the US – and Brits spend an average of nine minutes and 18 seconds on the site.

As Formichetti explains to Drapers: “The new campaign was about decoding digital culture, so I wanted to be where people are on the web and as we all know porn sites have huge traffic. Of course, advertising on fashion websites and in magazines is still important and outdoors [on billboards and buses] too.

”But more and more there will be websites that are not fashion[-related] that generate high traffic and we want to be on the pulse of that.” Looking at the numbers, porn sites make sense.

Diesel PornHub

Diesel PornHub

Diesel’s ads will appear on mobile “dating” apps Tinder and Grindr. Tinder “matches” users with nearby strangers and is one of the top 100 paid-for apps in the world –  it facilitates more than 26 million “matches” in 196 countries every day. Gay app Grindr is the largest all-male mobile social network in the world: 2 million log in on a daily basis and average users check it nine times a day and spend an average total of 54 minutes online.

When other “social” apps like Instagram launched advertising capabilities, many fashion brands jumped on the opportunity. While the number of users on dating apps such as Tinder and Grindr cannot compare with the 400 million active monthly users on Instagram, dating apps offer a different proposition – and one that is largely untapped by fashion brands. So far, only Calvin Klein, shoe brand Aldo and American Apparel have advertised on Grindr, alongside underwear and swimwear-focused labels Andrew Christian and Parke & Ronen.

Although the placing of ads on such platforms has raised eyebrows, some brands are going a step further and using porn sites or hook-up apps as marketing platforms. On December 1 2015, Pornhub premiered online the video look book for American fashion label Blackfist. And last month JW Anderson live-streamed its autumn 16 London Collections Men catwalk show via Grindr rather than the usual channels, becoming the first label to use the app in this way.

Designer Jonathan Anderson explains: “Grindr is a widely used social platform that really reflects youth culture right now. The global reach of Grindr is undeniable. This is why for us, it makes perfect sense for Grindr to be the first outlet to live-stream a JW Anderson men’s show. Grindr users are one of the most highly engaged in the app world, and fashion provides a constant stream of innovation and cultural connection,” adds Grindr’s vice-president of marketing Landis Smithers. “Partnerships like JW Anderson are new ventures for us. We have just opened our gates. There is a lot more to come.”

“JW Anderson linking up with Grindr was a really savvy move,” says Sam Aldenton, digital editor at trend forecasting service WGSN. “For a brand that is still up and coming, it’s a good tactic to establish a precedent of innovation and excitement that extends beyond the clothing during fashion week.

“By partnering with Grindr, Anderson was able to establish a way to cut through the noise on social, rise to the top of the news cycle and simultaneously reach out meaningfully to what is presumably a large segment of the designer’s target audience.

“The partnership was also super-impactful as a statement on the broader image of the brand, associating oneself with sex certainly has done wonders for other designers in the past – think Calvin Klein, Tom Ford, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana. Will it increase sales for the collection when it arrives in store? Probably not. But I would be surprised if the brand didn’t see an uptick in real-time online sales and gain a few more targeted fans.”

While the taboo of porn sites and dating apps might be breaking down, boundary-pushing labels such as JW Anderson and big names like Diesel, which is known for its cheeky ad campaigns, can get away with it.

“Sex and fashion is an old story,” says Diesel’s Formichetti. “I believe the world is actually more at ease with sex than we tend to think. With Diesel we want to be brave and go to places no one has been before, pushing the boundaries, so we did it.”

But Could these sexy link-ups backfire and ultimately be damaging for brands?

Aldenton believes not: “I don’t think that by having brands like Anderson and Diesel advertise [on dating apps and porn sites] it’ll somehow put off their customers from buying.

“They’re approaching consumers who are already in a sexually or romantically charged digital space and not the other way around, which is where I think a lot of brands come into trouble when they’re actively promoting a sexual dialogue in public spaces where not everyone viewing the ad is your target audience.”

These brands are smart for accepting that nowadays huge numbers of us are exploring platforms such as as Facebook and Instagram, but also porn sites and dating apps. As Grindr’s Smithers says, these channels have just “opened their gates” to fashion brands. Taboos might be breaking down but only time will tell if these hook-ups turn into productive, long-term relationships.


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Book your place now for the Drapers Digital Forum 2016 to take advantage of the early bird prices. The event will cover all things digital – from ecommerce to multichannel, from social media to mobile. Speakers include Kate Holt, head of ecommerce at Jigsaw, Gareth Jones, deputy chief executive of Shop Direct, and Marks & Spencer’s digital director, David Walmsley.


Book before February 26 to secure your place at the discounted early bird rate. Go to


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