By Emma Barns, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 05 May 2006 12:00AM
Sex sells - and for the pornography industry, those sales add up to billions and billions of pounds. Porn is one of the most profitable industries in the world, with the UK making £1 billion from images of breasts, bottoms and front bottoms every year.
And on the receiving end of all this naked flesh is possibly one of the most advertiser-desired cross-sections of society. From teenage punks to international jetsetters, men - and 41 per cent of women - buy porn in the form of magazines, TV channels, mobile downloads and from the 1.3 million pornographic websites.
But despite this potentially lucrative audience, you will not see the likes of Lynx or Sony placing their brands next to Penthouse and Mayfair's band of playmates. So why is it that mainstream advertisers baulk at the idea of these magazines?
Will Collin, a partner at Naked Communications, says simply: "It's because real porn is still a taboo. Advertisers are not willing to risk the negative associations with these brands and they are worried about backlash and the negative publicity. There are all the fears about investing in an immoral business and so they tread safely."
But Stuart Hardy, the group sales manager of Galaxy, which publishes porn titles including Fiesta and Knave, believes that the tide is changing.
"The adult industry is gaining larger acceptance and becoming more mainstream. Over the 40 years that we've been in business, we've seen the gap start to close," he comments.
While British culture has become more sexually explicit, however, there is still a real difference between, for example, the actresses on the TV series Sex and the City talking about having anal sex and the women in hardcore magazines doing it.
"It is very English to think that it is OK behind closed doors," Alex Russell, the head of press at Media Planning Group, says.
Acceptable sex for us Brits is confined to the chest region, as evidenced by the fact that advertisers still flock to lads' mags such as IPC Media's Loaded and the weekly titles including IPC's Nuts and Emap's Zoo. These magazines boast their "boob counts" and feature page after page of women in titillating poses.
The lads' magazines don't feature full nudity, though, and Collin argues: "Nuts and Zoo are positioned smartly. They fall on the right side of the line. They are saucy but are still perceived as entertainment."
Tim Brooks, the IPC ignite! managing director in charge of publications including Nuts and Loaded, argues that not only are his magazines on the right side of the line, but that "pornography and what we publish are two different things".
But not everyone is so convinced that the lads' mags, with their G-string-clad models, are completely beyond reprehension.
Guidelines agreed by the Home Office and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents in March 2006 draw a distinction between "adult topshelf titles" and "lads' mags", but still call for the latter to be placed above eye level to "minimise complaints from consumers".
In this light, the fact that advertisers still view the likes of Nuts and Zoo as a viable advertising medium could mean softer porn titles are right to feel aggrieved that they are not also taken seriously.
Hardy agrees, saying: "There is no doubt that our content is stronger than the lads' magazines but we still have a good case for advertisers. We have a loyal reader base - people have grown up with our titles."
He argues that while the reader's experience with a porn title is different from that of any other magazine, this makes for a better advertiser environment. "The reader pays more attention to a porn magazine than they do to a mainstream product. In other titles they might be flicking though and won't scrutinise pages or ads but with our products there will be certain pages that they spend more time with. This presents a powerful platform for advertisers," Hardy says.
Claudine Collins, a managing partner at MediaCom, concedes: "If I saw the demographic, I might consider it. It would be a hard sell but if you're targeting that audience it could work."
A stumbling block for porn titles, however, is their lack of audience research. Neither the Audit Bureau of Circulations nor the National Readership Survey assesses such titles.
Hardy explains: "Circulations have taken a hiding over the past few years and so the industry has become more secretive. As the competition has grown, the industry hasn't effectively marketed itself and we do need to get more into the public eye."
Porn magazines, like the majority of printed titles, have been assailed by the internet. And David Edwards, the head of the Adult Industries Association, says that traditional porn magazines are not stocked as widely as they once were.
"Stricter regulations on mags means that consumers are moving online for what they want," he explains.
Galaxy provides its clients with a guide to its titles' distribution figures, and from its seven magazines claims, rather generally, an audience of "more than one million ABC1/C2 males each and every month".
From this information, it seems unlikely that mainstream advertisers would buy into its magazines. And Collin argues that even if there is a large cross-section of men reading pornography, then its products don't have the monopoly.
He says: "The upside to media fragmentation is that men consume media from billboards, from WAP sites, from cable TV and so on. And if there are other ways to reach these men that don't invite backlash, then advertisers will choose them."
Hardy is bullish that the printed pornography product is not on the point of extinction. But even if the likes of Readers' Wives and Razzle do continue into the next decade, it will require a massive shift in advertisers' perceptions if the likes of Ford and Vodafone will be paying for ads next to eye-popping pictures of Amber from Essex.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk