“You can use sex to sell anything, except if it’s women’s pleasure.”
That’s how Stephanie Keating, marketing manager at WOW Tech Group, describes her frustration at the often-unwritten rules of advertising that keep sex toy ads from appearing in public. Given that her company produces high-tech gadgets aimed at helping women enjoy sexual fulfillment, it’s understandable why she feels like she’s been waging an uphill battle in the name of sex positivity.
But for the moment, she’s enjoying a rare moment of victory thanks to the company’s newest ad, a Toronto billboard created in conjunction with retailer PinkCherry and featuring with one of the best pieces of copywriting in recent memory: “Scream your own name.”
Designed by Canadian agency The Garden, the billboard has so far survived three weeks alongside one of Toronto’s busiest highways (the QEW at the 427), and the agency says that sets an endurance record for ads of its kind in North America.
Such advertisements, centered on women’s pleasure, are often turned down by ad placement companies, despite what Keating sees as a double standard that has made men’s sexual-health ads commonplace.
“When you are in the business of promoting women’s sexual pleasure and all the benefits that go with that, you’re used to being rejected,” Keating says. “We approach every media buy with trepidation, as we never know if our investment is going to see the light of day. Regardless of the medium—traditional, digital, social, podcasting—our ads have been censored even when they contain no explicit or suggestive content.”
In the U.S. and Canada, prohibitions against sexually themed ads are rarely codified by law or outlined clearly by media companies, which pick and choose which ads to allow. These nebulous and seemingly inconsistent guidelines have sparked increasingly vocal debates in the marketing industry as more brands focused on women’s sexual wellness and enjoyment have attempted to run ads in venues like mass transit, often ending in rejection.
WOW Tech Group, whose We-Vibe and Womanizer sex toys are sold at thousands of retailers across more than 60 countries, had struggled to find an agency that would be the right fit for its category and its female focus.
The brand says its products were too risqué for major agencies, but The Garden was eager to promote them.
“We have always seen the value in this brand,” says Shari Walczak, co-founder and executive strategy director of The Garden. “This is a company that believes in the importance of sexual wellness and empowerment for women, and the value of developing and maintaining intimacy between partners.”
The outdoor media buy via IMA Outdoor for PinkCherry has been extended into 2020, and the retailer plans to roll out new creative in the months ahead.