April 21, 2016

Sex doesn’t always sell – our guide to PRing taboo brands


Sarah Boulton

Find out how we PR taboo brands

The sex toy industry is an innovative, brave and boundary-pushing industry and yet this is not very often reflected in the PR and marketing surrounding companies in the sector.

Some of the popular PR tactics by brands in this space include; feature pieces in health and relationship columns with stories around “making partners happy” and “best positions to try on Valentines Day”, partnering with a popular red top celebrity and hoping this prompts lingerie sales, survey stories, pages and pages of survey stories – my personal pet hate is the “110% of Brits have had sex at an office Xmas party” which seems to do the rounds every year. While survey stories offer some level of awareness, they don’t work as hard as other shareable stories, especially digital ones, which also benefit SEO. Integrating with SEO is really important for this industry where digital sales are key – because they offer some level of anonymity for the buyer.

Overall these tactics are effective, no doubt, and I’m not saying they don’t have a purpose or that we’ve not been guilty of using some of these tactics before in the past. Sex and sex toys are seen as a taboo subject in the UK and a softer, guided approach will make an audience feel safe and build trust with a brand, especially if you are targeting a female audience. However, with the increasing exposure of sexual topics in popular culture such as “50 shades of Grey”, and the changing approach to sex in the general culture (with the prevalence of hook-up apps etc.), it is not such a shocking topic anymore even amongst this demographic. Hand-holding is no longer needed but instead being a cheeky/kinky partner or guide is a strategy that will reap PR rewards.

So, here are our key tips on how to do brave and creative PR in this sector:

  • Be the safe yet kinky guide and cheeky partner – basically this involves taking on a PR approach that adopts the “person who’s been to the party before” personality. As I mentioned previously it is historically a brave industry and therefore brands can be confident in who they are as a company and can see humour in the industry as well as understanding the importance of education and changes of perception. We really liked Hot Octopus’s (a brand that is not afraid to mock itself) simple but effective “best job in the world” campaign were they were offering a job to the public for testing their naughty products.
  • Break taboos – a successful PR campaign should work to break down taboos and spark conversations about sex or sex toys. One of the brands that we admire the most for doing this is Pornhub, their sleek, stylish and funny campaigns never fail to get people talking about the subject of porn regardless of the awkwardness of the topic. For example the great Christmas advert campaign with the grandad and gift card had everyone giggling in the pub and sharing across social media, read about it here if you missed it!
  • Build a psychological net – seek comfort through topics the general public feel comfortable with and can laugh at using cultural references. This is a strategy that most of our campaigns with our client Bondara, the second largest online adult toy retailer follows. For example, when we made an Iron Throne made out of dildos for the new series of Game of Thrones last April, which received over 200 pieces of coverage, and in the run up to the last election when we produced a mock political broadcast video using blow up doll version of the leaders, which was tweeted by Channel 4’s political correspondent and was requested by Channel 4 and the BBC for use in the election day coverage.

To find out more about this strategy and how we PR taboo brands, do drop us an email at naughty@fanclubpr.com.

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