Willingly or Not, Brands Often Star in 'Alt Porn'

Converse, Vans Help Add Subculture Sizzle to Sex Scenes

By Published on .

Reprints Reprints

MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Many consumers in your average mall across the U.S. can probably name-check Jenna Jameson or Ron Jeremy. If you can't, that means you're most likely not into porn -- and it also means you've avoided most media or marketing outlets over the past few years. And while porn has gone mainstream, an increasingly popular subgenre is also gaining attention -- and is even showcasing some popular brands.
Chucks feature prominently in 'Debbie Loves Dallas,' which is distributed by Vivid Alt, the alt-porn-specializing subsidiary of Vivid Entertainment.
Chucks feature prominently in 'Debbie Loves Dallas,' which is distributed by Vivid Alt, the alt-porn-specializing subsidiary of Vivid Entertainment.

"Alt porn" borrows heavily from subcultures such as punk, goth and "indie," including tattoos, piercings and other counterculture trends. Alt porn also incorporates those subcultures' brands, like the Converse One Star.

Sexy sneakers
The iconic Chuck Taylor is a staple of alt-porn makers such as Suicide Girls, Ariel Rebel, Punkgrl and Gods Girls. Titles distributed by Vivid Alt, the alt-porn-specializing subsidiary of Vivid Entertainment, such as "Debbie Loves Dallas," "Circa '82" and "Skater Girl Fever" all prominently feature Chucks or Vans sneakers. And one of the best-known alt companies, Burning Angel, regularly features Chucks and Vans.

Joanna Angel, founder of Burning Angel, said the inclusion of Converse or Vans is largely organic. "They're not only what I usually wear off-screen, they're also what most of the girls on my website wear off-screen." And just as the "adds reality" argument goes for mainstream product placement, so does it go for alt porn.

"There is something about Converse or Vans paired with porno or stripper apparel that looks so hot," Ms. Angel said. "Maybe it's something like 'Yeah, this girl is a porn star but she also is someone you can hang out with.' Everyone's friends wear Converse. But whose friends wear big plastic stilettos? No one wears those in real life."

Helping character devopment
Product placement isn't always just about a brand paying to be written into a film or scene; a brand can also serve as shorthand to say something about a character or to enhance a plot. Converse's street cred is what sometimes makes the shoes the only clothing to stay on in an alt-porn scene. And in return, Converse gains street cred from being the only clothing to stay on in an alt-porn scene.

But the use of identifiable brands on film without permission of the brand owner is, technically, against the rules. Ms. Angel said she is aware of this and is making an effort to be more diligent. "I know I have missed things in the past. But as my company gets bigger I'm trying to be more careful about this stuff."
Joanna Angel, founder of well-known alt company Burning Angel, rocks her Vans both on-screen and off.
Joanna Angel, founder of well-known alt company Burning Angel, rocks her Vans both on-screen and off.

Is there a downside for a brand such as Converse or Vans to being so directly associated with such a lifestyle?

James H. Gilmore, co-author of "Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want" (Harvard Business School Press, 2007), reasons there are two sides to Converse's exposure: "If one has an appetite for porn, and particularly for this genre of porn, I suppose the wearing of Converse in these films might be seen as some sort of retro wink at the more primitive days of X-rated movies. But the wearing of Converse in these films really only serves to make the porn more real to those who fancy such. For the many more people who could care less about 'street cred' and this alt porn trend, word of this kind of 'street crud' might actually hurt the Converse brand."

So how does Converse itself see its position as a popular alt-porn prop?

Versatile apparel
Jonathan Finn, Converse's senior director of marketing communications, said, "The Chuck has always been a shoe you can dress up or dress down. We don't make judgments about what our customers decide to wear, or not wear, with the shoe."

And while Converse does not arrange for its product to be featured in such films, it also understands its brand positioning as "rebellious" and has no plans to formally look into the use of its shoes in the content in any way.

Meanwhile, Ms. Angel is of the mind-set that a brand like Converse does stand to benefit from being associated with the aesthetic of her lifestyle. "This demographic wears these shoes. If you want to look like one of these people, wear these shoes!"
In this article:
Most Popular