The pleasure of marketing sex toys in a world of censorship

Outdated network rules, aggressive timelines and low budgets make for a winning creative combination.


Erect nipples.

Sweaty, shameless bodies pressed up against a heavily-condensated window in a coital union of immeasurable pleasure.

If any of this is making you uncomfortable, now’s a good time to leave (here’s a safer read about agency promotions, you massive bore).

We’re here to talk about love toys and orgasms and the challenges in marketing them. It’s something the team over at Fancy knows all too well.

"The interesting and fun thing about working within the creative challenge of broadcast limitations or, um, handcuffs, is that when you can’t show or say anything, there is the chance to really play with the viewer's imagination," said Erica Fite, co-founder and co-cco at the New York City-based agency, who works with adult chain Lion’s Den.

Fite, along with her partner Katie Keating, approached the brand after reading an article in which Pete Potenzini, its director of marketing, said the company was actively trying to appeal to women and couples.

They wanted to make a difference for women by celebrating sexuality and normalizing the vital role sex plays in our lives. The duo set out to create humorous work that portrayed women as in control of their desires.

"But first people would have to see the work," said Keating. "We had no idea how hard it would be to get good work out into the world.

"It turns out, there are a lot of rules about what we can and cannot see/hear/read on the air, on social, digital, and print. Rules about when we can see it, and rules about how we can be targeted. Lots and lots of rules."

TV rules prohibit showing any adult products, using the word "sex" and showing certain body parts. Basically, the team was tasked with selling something that can’t be seen.

Facebook is a complete no-go for this kind of content. Its advertising guidelines states that ads must not promote the sale or use of adult products or services, except for family planning and contraception. But at least the publisher’s rules are clear. Google is more of a minefield.

So it was a big win for Fancy when networks cleared the "Yoga" Lion’s Den spot for Super Bowl 2017.

"With Lion’s Den, we continue to push ourselves to make things that say it all without saying or showing anything at all," Keating continued.

They’ve successfully mastered the art time and time again, like a radio holiday song performed only with vibrators and a custom propaganda style poster of raised female fists exclaiming "Women Come First" for International Women’s Day.

Fancy created two spots -- one clean and the other uncensored -- for its latest Lion’s Den campaign to push its waterproof sex toys and lingerie.


"Rub-A-Dub," which builds on the brand’s underlying "Do It. Every Day," is reminiscent of a Calgon commercial from the 80s. The team second-guessed network ruling and played it safe with watered-down version for broadcast.

Keating explained: "The client was concerned that if we were overt about the woman directing the man to get back to work -- gesturing to the tub, saying keep going, etc -- that the networks would reject the spot.

"We feel pretty strongly at Fancy that there’s nothing shameful about a woman’s pleasure, or a woman asking for and getting what she wants, so we made a version that would get that point across -- even if not across the airwaves."

The combination of low-budget, aggressive timeline and censorship rules turned out to be the perfect (furry) handcuffs that bred simple, sharp and effective creativity.


The work went down a storm with Potenzini, who praised Fancy for helping Lion’s Den invite women and couples into stores through friendly, humorous stories that feature relatable characters enjoying themselves and each other in ways that integrate its products into their everyday lives.

Keating added: "Our advertising is less suggestive and less obvious than many of the shows, songs, and other content people consume every day through the very same media that won't allow the ads.

"Everyone has a sexual self and this includes the fine folks at the FCC. If we could just acknowledge that and stop shaming it, we would all sleep happier at night."


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