Porn to Sell

Product placement comes to adult videos...hey, watch where you put that thing!

It’s tempting to think there’s something twisted about her tale. After all, she was a mere 18 the first time she had sex in front of a camera -- for money, small change that would soon enough blossom into a pile of cash--and did so only at the insistence of her boyfriend, who had worked for months to get her to, well, open up. She swears even now that she had no idea what she was getting into the day she answered the newspaper ad looking for nude models, which turned out to be a job making all-girl amateur porn movies. To that point, she always thought of herself as "sexually inexperienced," but, she insists, she never for a moment regretted her decision. She liked getting naked in the movies, loved having sex with other women, and absolutely adored the money she could make being a fantasy.

Six years after making her first amateur film, 1994’s Fresh Meat, the woman known only as Jenteal is quite proud of her career choice and the dozens of films she’s made, among them: Open Wide, Riding Lessons, Sex Academy 4: The Art of Anal, and Champions of Munch. She’s so proud, in fact, she says she’ll stay in porn until it kicks her out of bed. And the guy who pushed her behind the green door remains beside her as her husband. "I am really happy with what I’ve done," Jenteal says over and over from her Los Angeles office, where she runs Mesmereyes Inc., selling her product over the Internet. "I haven’t really decided where I’m going to go from here career-wise, but I really don’t think I’ll totally leave the adult business, because there’s so many great qualities to it."

This, despite the fact that next year, Jenteal will appear in her first non-porn film: Made, written by Swingers screenwriter-star Jon Favreau and featuring Vince Vaughan, X-Men’s Famke Janssen, and Peter Falk. It won’t be the first time a porn star’s gone "legit": Traci Lords and Ginger Lynn went from F-movies to B-movies in the 1980s, and just last year, Jenteal’s friend and frequent co-star, Kobe Tai, played a stripper in Very Bad Things, which also starred Favreau. But Jenteal insists she isn’t going straight: She, in fact, hates the word transition--as in, "Are you transitioning out of porn?"--and audibly winces whenever it comes up during the course of conversation. It suggests that she’s somehow ashamed of what she does for a living, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Come and get it: As this scene clearly demonstrates, women love a man in Eckõ gear.
Come and get it: As this scene clearly demonstrates, women love a man in Eckõ gear.

Jenteal--like her colleagues at Vivid Video, which grosses more than $50 million a year, making it the most profitable porn manufacturer and distributor in the world--makes a good living on the sex circuit. Luke Ford, the porn-gossip gatekeeper on the Internet, estimates that Vivid girls make about $100,000 a year "for about 20 sex scenes and a dozen personal appearances." Jenteal’s Web site, which offers everything from her amateur videos to signed photographs, also turns a nice profit, and she runs sites for a handful of her colleagues as well.

Jenteal’s not kidding herself--"I know I’ll never be a Sharon Stone," she says, chuckling--but she’s only too happy making her living lying down on the job. It’s too profitable and--seriously--prestigious a gig to abandon, no matter how alluring the call of Hollywood. Besides, who wants to be Sharon Stone anyway?

"Being a porn star is a trendy thing right now," Jenteal says, "and knowing porn stars is trendy. The term 'transition’ really irks me. I’m not trying to break into the mainstream business, not at all."

If you don’t think porn’s not just your father’s dirty little secret anymore, you haven’t been on the Internet, haven’t watched MTV or VH1 (which airs the documentary Porn to Rock as often as it shows commercials), or haven’t picked up a copy of GQ or Redbook, the latter of which recently picked Vivid’s Bad Wives as one of "5 Sexy Things He’s Longing For." Porn stars are this week’s rock stars, showing up in Metallica and Everclear videos, on Blink 182 album covers, on T-shirts (there is, in fact, a line of clothing called Porn Star), on the arms of musicians (Kid Rock used to date Midori, star of Anal Fever), and in fashion-magazine spreads (with their clothes on, a novel concept). Their posters pop up in episodes of Will & Grace; their videos air during Sopranos episodes. They are the latest thing in celebrity sightings and E! True Hollywood Story documentaries.

Porn, not so suddenly, is everywhere.

So perhaps it’s not surprising to find that Vivid Video has brought Hollywood marketing over the hills and into the San Fernando Valley: Product placement has, finally, come to the world of adult videos.

E.T. sold Reese’s Pieces, Austin Powers pitched Heineken, Tom Cruise increased sales of Oakley sunglasses by 80 percent after the release of Mission: Impossible 2, and now Shelbee Myne and Jane Lixx and Charlie Angel are hawking a line of hip-hop wear in such hardcore films as The Watcher 8: Operation Voyeurism and Colorblind: A Van Fantasy, part of Vivid’s no-story-all-sex Raw line. Before the clothes end up in a heap on the floor, you can clearly see the clothier’s logo brandished across the chests of men and women about to go at it: Eckõ Unlimited, the mark of the stud.

"Product placement in porn was inevitable," says Coltrane Curtis, head of marketing for the New Jersey-based Eckõ, whose clothes have turned up in dozens of hip-hop videos by the likes of De La Soul, Ice Cube, and Cash Money. "It was a matter of time. We’ve had placement in other films, so why not porn? We’ve always taken risks, and this is a risk. But the fact is, guys who watch porn movies have no style. They look like nuts, like porn cats. All they talk about is their dicks, so now they can talk about our gear."

Unlike most traditional product-placement deals, this one costs Eckõ absolutely nothing: Curtis sends the clothes to Vivid publicist Brian Gross, who conceived the idea last year, and Gross gets them in the movies, simple as that. (The line will begin showing up in Vivid’s feature-length films later this year.) It is, as Gross says, a "straight-up deal": Vivid gets to be associated with one of the leading urban-wear manufacturers, and Eckõ gains some exposure among the 18- to 35-year-old demographic that likes to watch movies with its pants down.

The two companies also work together during cross-promotional events: This spring, Eckõ threw spring-break parties in South Padre, Texas, and South Beach, Florida, where Vivid girls showed up wearing Eckõ clothes, and on August 6, the companies will throw a kick-off party at a New York City club called Fun. Vivid’s flying in six of its actresses, including Kobe Tai, at no cost to Eckõ. At the same time, Vivid gets free use of Eckõ’s so-called "street teams," otherwise known as guys who go around different cities plastering the companies’ posters and stickers on barren walls. "This is," as Curtis reminds, "a deal between friends," as is another product-placement deal Vivid has with a Michigan-based company called Not-A-Beanbag.com, which sells foam-filled "poof" chairs.

"Every mainstream facet of entertainment has found room and has tried to combine forces with the adult industry more than ever, because there has been a social acceptance of porn," says Gross, who pushed product for Elektra Records before making the leap to the more honest world of adult films. "When people wear Porn Star shirts, it’s an accepted trend or fad."

The Internet has turned porn from a trench-coat biz into a legit, profitable enterprise that no longer hides in the musty dark. For a few bucks, you can tune in and turn on without ever leaving the house--though even if you do feel the need to go out for your porn, most of your finer adult-video shops are staffed and populated by friendly folk unabashed about cruising for kink in brightly lit, cleanly swept boutiques. In Los Angeles, Larry Flynt’s Hustler store, in the heart of the old Sunset Strip, is that damnedest of combinations: coffee shop crossed with porn-video retailer, with lotions and mainstream magazines and Porn Star T-shirts there to fill in the gaps. It’s the Borders and Gap of sex: Porn goes to the chain store.

"My profession is now much more socially accepted with people I meet now than when I started," Jenteal says. "I don’t get the same disrespect that I got then. It seems to get better every day, and I don’t think my 'past’ is going to haunt me or inhibit me from getting mainstream jobs. I’m a personality. My name is Jenteal, and it’s always going to be Jenteal. Traci Lords might have run from her past, but I will always embrace my roots."

Vivid, following the lead of the Playboy Channel, has made hardcore porn even more accessible than logging on. The company owns a handful of pay-per-view outlets, including The Hot Zone and The Hot Network, available on both DirecTV and AT&T’s cable system. For eight bucks a pop, viewers can use their remote controls--with their free hand, one assumes--to dial up such titles as Sweet Summer Sex Kittens and Magnum Love, which are far more explicit than films aired on Playboy. Indeed, those movies make hotel porn look like Disney Channel fare--which is why, just last week, a coalition of AT&T shareholders, including a handful of mutual fund groups, demanded the telecommunications giant dump Vivid’s networks from its cable roster. The coalition, according to The Associated Press, claims to own a combined 2.8 million shares of AT&T, a small percentage.

"We just don’t like the idea of AT&T carrying hard-core pornography on its distribution system," one portfolio manager told the AP last Wednesday. AT&T Broadband’s president, Daniel Somers, insists that the programming will be carried only in areas where customers demand it--which would be, oh, everywhere. Vivid’s adult-vid channels are available in more than 21 million homes, including, no doubt, yours.

And the porn blitz is not limited to the United States. Last week, the British Board of Film Classification ruled that, for the first time, hardcore porn can be sold at licensed sex retailers and shown on satellite television systems. Fay Weldon, author of The Life and Loves of a She-Devil and a member of the BBFC’s Video Appeals Committee, said in last Wednesday’s London Times that "porn is really Viagra without damage to the liver."

But Coltrane Curtis knows his alliance with Vivid is a risky one; he has heard complaints even from within his own company. But business is business, and it’s a tricky thing marketing a lifestyle -- you’re likely to please as many as you piss off.

"Not too many brands can take the risks, but we’ve done $220 million in revenue this year, and the porn stuff doesn’t show up on the radar," Curtis says. "This is all about staying in consumers’ minds. The whole Vivid relationship is not about driving sales. It’s about establishing Eckõ into anther industry, another lifestyle. I will not ever, not in a billion years, sell our clothes where porn is sold, but our demographic is fifteen- to- 30-year-old men, so you will have a high-school kid and a 30-year-old man with a house and two Porsches in the garage. We have to market to those people and have respect for everyone who buys our clothes. So, yeah, it’s a fine line, and we’re always on it."

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