Selling Sexy: What Advertisers Can Learn From Publisher's Most Popular Videos

on Content Marketing

Editor's note: This is a guest post from Annie Atherton, director of marketing and branded content at Thought Catalog, a Sharethrough client.


We all know sex sells.

A quick search for the most popular editorial YouTube videos on a number of top Millennial publishers confirms this.

From HuffPost Live's Porn vs. Real Sex to Elite Daily’s Women Draw Their Perfect Penis to VICE's The Biggest Ass In Brazil. In perfect parody form, The Onion's play on reality dating shows, Sex House - Meet the Nymphos, is the most-viewed video on its extensive YouTube channel at 25 million views.

But how does this work out for brands, who are generally wary of "inappropriate" content?

And how can publishers make use of this strategy in a way that doesn't come across like the pervy notes passed between eighth graders during class?

Most popular editorial videos from Millennial Publishers

Perhaps the answer to these questions lies in understanding why people seek this kind of content in the first place.

Love and sex are tangentially relevant to everything.

There’s a salacious factor, sure, and some shock value. But it’s also just relatable — something most people can easily understand and think about in the context of their own lives.

And it fits within an even more broadly relatable topic: relationships.

Dating is no less relevant to a yoga instructor than it is to a computer programmer.

Whether casual or serious, relationships are something nearly everyone has experienced or wants to experience at one point or another. While focusing explicitly on sex is not likely to work out for many brands, there are numerous examples of popular, toned-down dating content that you can feel comfortable watching at work.

Relationship content has a built-in sharing incentive. For every viewer who enjoys such a video, there’s likely a significant other (or favorite wingman) who will soon know.

BuzzFeed's If Disney Princes Were Real - Relationship Content Sells Well

With 36 million views, BuzzFeed's If Disney Princes Were Real far outpaces any of the above examples and is fairly innocent in nature. There are a few Tinder jokes, but the humor is mainly about the absurdity of fairytale romantic ideals in a modern context. BuzzFeed leveraged a similar strategy in a branded video for Google Photos, Weird Things We Do For Love, which shows the simple scene of people giving their friend a hard time for changing for each of her boyfriends.

Elite Daily - Couples Swap Phones video for T-Mobile

In a similar vein, Elite Daily's video for T-Mobile, Couples Swap Phones And Go Through Each Other's History revolves around a relatable dating concept without veering into very risqué territory.

Then there are the more traditionally journalistic takes, such as the VICE collaboration with GE, How Will Love Be Deeper?, which utilizes scientific research to talk about relationships. Overall, however, this type of sponsored content seems far outnumbered by images of aspirational lifestyle, influencer profiles, or more traditional tutorials and how-to guides.

One reason these publishers may be trying out the relationship angle is that it reaches more people than the vast majority of themes.

A niche tech product or obscure food trend might not appeal to many, but dating is no less relevant to a yoga instructor than it is to a computer programmer. What’s more, relationship content has a built-in sharing incentive. For every viewer who enjoys such a video, there’s likely a significant other (or favorite wingman) who will soon know via a tagged post or message.

For brands, there could be concern about fit, as few products directly relate to these themes. But then, one could argue that love and sex are tangentially relevant to everything.

Booze and meals are better when enjoyed with a partner (a theme that has spawned thousands of popular organic articles, from Thrillist’s Manhattan Subway Date Map to The New York Times' Romantic Dinner collection).

New clothes are most exciting when appreciated by someone else (the basis of Elite Daily’s post for Bowlmore Lanes 5 First Date Looks That Don’t Look Like You Tried, But Totally Fool Him). Cars take us on romantic road trips (as the Travel Channel wrote about for Alabama Tourism). Movies give us something to share.

Wherever an activity can be related to love and sex, there's an opportunity to make that part of the story.

The abundance of successful examples suggest it’s a strong tool for advertisers, and one that achieves the vision of content marketing in general: that when users come across an ad amid a cacophony of competing images, articles, videos, and GIFs, they have reason to stop and think, “Here’s something that applies to me.”