Safe is in the eye of the beholder. What about vintage porn clips, painted with strategically placed cartoon-gag covers - so the "actors" appear to be, say,
eating corn on the cob, shaking maracas or riding a pony? Safe? Maybe. But it is definitely popular. An 80-second clip racked up 2.5 million views in its first 48 hours, and hit 8 million two weeks
later. The purpose: Drive viral excitement about Diesel's 30th anniversary, playfully titled XXX: Dirty Thirty.
"The adult connotation was definitely already there," says Matt
Smith, cofounder and head of strategy at The Viral Factory. Still, he was surprised when, of all the company's pitches, the jean empire chose the SFW porn video.
thought it was the edgiest and the funniest of our pitches, but we also thought it was the least likely option for them to choose."
Smith admits the Diesel viral "rather
shamelessly ripped off" a meme he'd encountered on somethingawful.com, a forum for Photoshop geeks. There, a digital imaging challenge to make porn safe for work drew hundreds of entries of
once-lascivious still shots, tastefully masked. "Our contribution was to move it into film," Smith says. Somethingawful.com even helped promote the video.
"We always knew
that YouTube would take it down the moment either a user tagged it as inappropriate or if YouTube police spotted it," says Olivier Katz, president of The Viral Factory. "So far, that video
has been uploaded 57 times by 57 different users on their own initiatives [no one on VF's behalf] and taken down systematically?....?The audience becomes the army that gets it out there."
"Porn is high on the list of content with viral potential," he adds. "It was a dream project from the seeding standpoint."
YouTube has ceased to target the
clip, but in order to ensure code embedded in other Web sites isn't disrupted, Smith brokered a deal with video-hosting site break.com to approve the content and keep it up and running.
Other than the initial scuffle on YouTube, backlash has been virtually nonexistent. "It's close to that indefinable line between what people find entertaining, and what they find
offensive," Katz says.