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Since first launching in 2007, Pornhub has swelled and expanded, rising up the internet rankings like a morning hard-on saluting the new dawn. Over the inaugural decade of its existence, it has become the internet’s biggest storage facility of pornographic content and although it’s not the most popular adult site on the net (that distinction goes to XVideos; PornHub comes in third place – pun intended) it has managed to achieve a pop cultural eminence that no other tube site could possibly compete with.

That’s because Pornhub is more than just a place to enjoy video footage of interracial double penetration in the office toilets on your lunch break: it’s a bona fide (boner fide?) lifestyle brand that collaborates with fashion labels on capsule collections and tries to make crowdfunded sex tapes in space.

Pornhub has achieved this by regularly cooking up ridiculous publicity stunts. Initially, its PR team started small by planting salacious rumors about celebrity sex tapes in the tabloid press. Their first target was Demi Lovato: back in 2010, Pornhub offered the former Barney & Friends star $100,000 for a hypothetical sex that may or may not have been completely made up by company insiders. They then repeated this tactic with Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian.

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But Pornhub’s first elaborate publicity stunt wouldn’t arrive until April 2012, when it sent the Bree Olson Boob Bus on a stop tour across Manhattan. The bus was loaded with a team of medical professionals and porn star Bree Olson, and went around offering women instructions on how to conduct proper self-examinations for potentially cancerous breast lumps while also providing free screening services onboard.

As you’d expect, the stunt immediately made headlines and generated acres of press attention. Keying the search terms “Pornhub Bree Olson Boob Bus” into Google throws up a list of articles from news organizations as varied as the Huffington Post, Russia Today, Fox News and Australia’s Daily Telegraph. These are sites with large readerships that can offer Pornhub access to masses of masturbators, but they’re not the sort of media portals that usually write about tube sites.

By creating these outlandish PR stunts, Pornhub becomes newsworthy and manages to insert itself into the daily media cycle. It’s a very shrewd way of generating brand visibility, which is vital for a free site whose business model relies entirely on clicks: “Our initiatives are born from our eagerness to provide for our fans — be it technologically, philanthropically, etc.”, Pornhub’s Vice President, Corey Price, tells me over email. “It’s important for us to remain top-of-mind so our fans keep coming back for more.”

The online pornography market is more crowded than the Houston 620, so much so that it’s near enough impossible to measure how much of the web is devoted to porn — something the BBC found out when they tried to determine the exact figure several years ago. A myriad of estimates exist, ranging from anywhere between four and 37 percent.

SimilarWeb ranks Pornhub as the 15th most popular site on the web (drawing in 85 million daily visitors) and three of the top 15—which is a whole fifth—are porn sites. Because Pornhub doesn’t provide a niche service, it’s hard to inspire much brand loyalty. After all, like other tube sites, Pornhub doesn’t produce its own content — it simply provides access to videos that its users have uploaded online, often illegally.

Many of the same videos housed on Pornhub can be found on xnxx.com or XVideos, and most people go back to particular tube sites out of habit rather than any special feelings of affinity. Pornhub’s publicity stunts are good for brand recognition and probably inspire some degree of brand loyalty in all those wankers out there who find them amusing.

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Since launching the Bree Olson Boob Bus, Pornhub’s publicity efforts have grown increasingly more creative: from teaming up with Coolio on a NSFW music video to providing the city of Philadelphia with barrels of lube after the local police department refused to grease up the city’s light poles ahead of the Eagles’ recent SuperBowl showdown. Pornhub’s PR stunts are clever and avoid being too on-the-nose, veering towards cheekiness rather than vulgarity, which is precisely why you read about them in the mainstream media so often.

Since 2015, the site has increasingly turned its attentions towards fashion, first by launching its own clothing line, Pornhub Apparel, and then by expanding into partnerships with both prominent and independent labels. One of the earliest of these partnerships came in December 2015 when the tube site debuted Blackfist’s video lookbook for the brand’s “Hurts So Good” collection. A month later it hosted an emoji-driven ad campaign for Diesel before sponsoring Hood By Air’s New York Fashion Week show in September 2016. Last year Pornhub took things a step further by teaming up with Richardson magazine on a capsule collection full of streetwear staples, and with Moose Knuckles on a limited edition bomber jacket.

While porn has traditionally been part of a private ritual that takes place behind locked doors, Pornhub has taken it into a very public arena. In many ways this isn’t too dissimilar to what Hugh Hefner did at Playboy decades ago: by mixing smut with respectable journalism and projecting an image of refined aspiration, Hefner earned his publication a degree of respectability that had, up until that point, been entirely antithetical to porn. Playboy became more than just a masturbatory aid.

We can laugh about people who claim that they only buy Playboy “for the articles,” but it shouldn’t be underestimated how much that veil of plausible deniability helped boost its mainstream acceptance and turned the magazine into the vast empire that it is today — or was 20 years ago, rather, back when people still bought magazines.

For Pornhub, these partnerships don’t only help the company differentiate itself from the masses of other tube sites that contain the same pirated material, they imbue it with the sort of cultural capital that the fashion industry has in such abundance, thus making it more than just a tube site to those susceptible to PR-driven sleights of hand.

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Getting to this point wasn’t exactly easy. As far as the sexual liberation movement has come (pun intended) since the 1960s, a stigma still hangs over the porn industry. “It was tough initially, but people soon acquiesced and came around to working with us and realized the potential visibility they can garner through our collaboration. Now, we have brands hitting us up to collaborate, rather than just us reaching out to them,” Price tells me.

Of course, Pornhub has been tactical with its partnerships. Richardson is a niche erotica mag-cum-streetwear label, after all, and not a square retailer like Walmart. For brands like Diesel, which project a sexualized image without being pornographic, Pornhub is a perfect partner: “As more and more brands continue their foray into the digital ad ecosystem they are looking to overhaul their marketing approach by leaning toward a more refreshingly modern and edgy attitude in terms of exposure. And that’s exactly what Pornhub provides,” says Price.

Ultimately, Pornhub became a lifestyle brand by simply straying beyond the realms of pornography. But none of this would’ve been possible had western culture not become increasingly smutty over recent decades. A mainstream media organization like VICE probably would have run foul of obscenity laws back in your grandparents day and even just 30 years ago anyone wearing a Hustler t-shirt probably would’ve been perceived as an irredeemable pervert. The fact that a site devoted to hardcore pornography can reinvent itself as a lifestyle brand just goes to show how much porn has become part of our lifestyles.

Next up; here’s why a transgender Playmate is exactly what Hugh Hefner wanted.

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  • Main & Featured Image:Richardson x Porn Hub
Words by Aleks Eror
Contributor
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