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Sunny Leone 3.0: How to build a brand that outlasts porn

Growing up in Canada, Sunny Leone did not aspire to be a porn star. No young girl really does. But Leone, who describes herself as so dorky in school that no boy danced with her on graduation day, made her intentions clear by joining the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) club in high school.

business Updated: Jul 14, 2016 14:29 IST
Sunny Leone acquired 1.5 million followers on Twitter and 4 million on Instagram.
Sunny Leone acquired 1.5 million followers on Twitter and 4 million on Instagram.(File Photo)


Growing up in Canada, Sunny Leone did not aspire to be a porn star. No young girl really does. But Leone, who describes herself as so dorky in school that no boy danced with her on graduation day, made her intentions clear by joining the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) club in high school.

Her life took a different course and she ended up becoming a Penthouse Pet and an adult movie star. But now, having become a bonafide Bollywood star, she is rediscovering the FBLA in her and going about recreating herself as a brand and a businesswoman.

Leone’s appearance in Bigg Boss, India’s version of the reality TV show Big Brother, four years ago changed many things. Till then a lot of the traffic to her website was from India, but none of it could be monetised because the viewers did not go to the ‘buy’ or ‘pay’ sections. Now they were indirectly buying as Leone began to appear in Bollywood movies and item numbers, became the most searched person on the internet in India. She acquired 1.5 million followers on Twitter and 4 million on Instagram and feeds them regular brand endorsements.

For a long time, Leone stuck to her guns and did not renounce her past. She endorsed Manforce condom, and became the face of IMbesharam (mangled Hindi for “shameless me”), a site that sells adult toys and lingerie. Approached by publishing start-up Juggernaut, she wrote a series of stories about “...power.... emotions... desires”, which got delivered into the user’s mobile app at 10 in the night. The names of some of her movies tell their own tale, such as Jism 2, Mastizaade, Kuch Kuch Locha Hai, and One Night Stand. Some do not, such as Ek Paheli Leela, but her movies are invariably sold as erotic thriller, erotic horror, or erotic comedy.

Still, Leone gets regular slots, not just those dedicated to entertainment, for her television interviews. On one of them, on CNN-News18, she conducted herself with dignity and restraint while her interviewer showed a lack of both. As he tried to shame her for having been a porn star, she came out looking shinier. That interview generated a wave of support for Leone and finished whatever was left to be done to bring her mainstream.

That may have been the cue for her next step. Leone told Mint, HT’s sister publication, she plans to venture into women’s cosmetics and often thinks about starting a clothing line. “I personally would like to invest more money in merchandising and branding because it is something that can continue forever,” she said.

Leone already has a perfume, which she says she makes herself. It is called Lust. So she is not letting go of the past just yet, but she is showing the way to a lot of people who tasted success as porn stars but could not do much after retiring.

When Porn Ends, a 2012 documentary about the post-retirement lives of adult stars, describes their careers a brief shining moment. Houston, who uses just one name, tried to sell houses after retiring. She lost her job when a client recognised her, and came back to the adult film industry. Even charities do not accept donations from porn stars.

Leone has the best chance to change that. Going by her penchant for making successful transitions, she will surely move on to other things if her cosmetics and clothing line find acceptance and success in the mainstream. And then, one day, her story may be taught in marketing and branding courses. For her line extension is drastic and cohesive in equal parts.