Do you have a ChatRoulette strategy yet? More than a few brands have been dipping their toes into the murky waters of the NSFW video chatting site that has been doubling in popularity lately.

And while tapping into a rapidly growing audience may be tempting, brands should ask themselves a question before trying out any new medium — especially one with a shady reputation. What do they hope to get out of it?

The general userbase of Chatroulette usually falls into three categories: people who want to expose themselves, people looking for nudity, and curious/new users. There aren’t a lot of brands that would knowingly market themselves to digital exhibitionists, but the growing attention coming to the site does present an opportunity for brands that know how to use it.

According to comScore, Chatroulette drew 960,000 U.S. visitors in
February, up from 109,000 in January. As Chatroulette’s 17-year-old founder Andrey Ternovskiy told The New York Times:

“After the initial 20 users the site doubled and it continued to double
every day since then. Last month I saw 30 million unique visitors come
to the Web site and one million new people visit each day. It continues
to multiply and I just couldn’t stop it from growing.”

All of those potential eyeballs should get marketers excited. But the Chatroulette audience may not be ideal candidates for brand advertising. And the one on one nature of the site means that it’s a lot easier to use Chatroulette interactions on a platform that can later be shared online. That’s what French Connection learned when it started playing around with ChatRoulette earlier this year. The clothing brand challenged its male audience to go on the site and charm random females in exchange for a 250 pound clothing voucher. With women comprising only 15% of the Chatroulette population, it wasn’t easy. But as the first brand on the service, French Connection got a good deal of press from its efforts.

Meanwhile, Travelocity’s tiny gnome got into Chatroulette at the end of March, holding up signs like “This would be better if we were in Rio” and
“Awesome things: 1) Tahoe this weekend. 2) Traveling instead of
chatting.” Both of these efforts managed to dip a toe in the waters of Chatroulette without acknowledged its seedier aspects.

Dr. Pepper took a different approach. As an April Fool’s joke, the UK arm of the soda brand sent a
woman dressed as a cheerleader onto the site, who instructed users to
“Be a Doggy” to “Get a Dance.” When they obliged, they were given a bait
and switch. A skinny man popped up in the cheerleader outfit and
started dancing.

Was this funny? Maybe? It was certainly unexpected. But it also dove into the sleezier aspects of ChatRoulette without getting anything much back. Brands shouldn’t simply be testing out new services to say that they were there at the beginning. They should be getting something out of it.

To date, the most successful marketing campaign on ChatRoulette has been the anonymous “Merton,” who has been serenading viewers with piano improv.  It doesn’t seem like he is selling anything, but he managed to amuse people he interacted with on the service. More importantly, he engaged with people afterwards — over 2 million people have now viewed his first video on YouTube.

Going forward, there are likely to be many uses for Chatroulette.
Ternovskiy is trying to create a more PG option for users, and there may
soon be customized options for smaller audiences.

But the same rules apply to brands trying out Chatroulette as inviduals. Chatroulette users are trying to engage the person on the other side of their video. And brands need to engage their targeted audience. But unless they’re going after naked people and those looking for naked people, that means making an impression that will translate outside of the service.