If you want to find a way to get around censorship and shadow-banning, in a creative, tongue-and-cheek fashion, check out this brilliant new campaign by Lovehoney.

Recently in April, Lovehoney came out with the ‘Not a Sex Toy’ campaign, which uses everyday items (cucumber, washing machine, pillow, electric toothbrush) as stand ins for ‘real’ sex toys on their billboard marketing, to challenge advertising censorship in mainstream media.

Using humor, bold images, and tongue-in-cheek copy, the campaign not only brings attention to their brand, and piques the viewer’s curiosity, but it also opens conversations about censorship issues: “Thanks to censorship, we have to use this in our ads”, pointing to an electric toothbrush.

The campaign also brings awareness to the stigmatizing of sexual pleasure, showing consumers the not-so-sexy alternatives to sex toys, with headlines declaring: “You deserve better!”.

This campaign was launched a year after Lovehoney received a complaint from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)—UK’s regulator of advertising—due to a billboard featuring the “Silence is Golden” ball gag ad.

Not only does censorship unfairly demonize sex toys and the sexual wellness industry as a whole by not allowing us to market to our customers and placing healthy sexuality in the same category as sex crimes, but it also hinders access to sexual wellness and pleasure education for the public at large.

Thus, Lovehoney has been able to create ‘unbannable ads’, which they say helps to “normalize the conversation around sexual wellness and bring sex toys into the mainstream, which we will do one cucumber at a time if we must!”

 

What Lovehoney has done here is not revolutionary, in that it was never done in the past. I used to post a blurred steamy mirror image with lipstick writing: “Shhh… This image is Censored…” on social media many years ago, back when shadow-banning first started, with text copy “Click link to see censored image”. This image got more WAY more clicks that any of our other ads that featured images of the real toys.

 

What Can You Do to Implement These Ideas?

If you want to beat the censorship police and get your ads seen more, here are a few creative, out-of-the box ideas you can do.

  1. Stop posting photos of products/sex toys. Most sex toys are not super attractive to begin with (with the exception of some luxury toys), so why post images of them? You are selling the promise of ecstasy, of pleasure, of orgasm, of connection, self/body love, and a spiced-up sex life, NOT the toys themselves. What is the emotion your customer wants to experience? How can you show that without actually showing sex/masturbation? Close up body parts: hands clutching sheets, O-faces, sweat on the brow, and that sort of thing works well. Sometimes (often) less is more, and you can entice your customer and be more provocative by being more mysterious and leaving a lot to the imagination.
  2. While this has been done excessively, it still works well at evocating sex and pleasure: using fruit (juicier the better) as body parts. The obvious connection between juicy succulent fruit and wet, messy sex makes these sorts of ads quite visceral, evoking a sensual/sexual response from the viewer immediately. How can you get creative with juicy fruit, and other edibles: cake, pies, whipped cream… let your imagination run wild!
  3. Use blurred out images of sex toys saying, “Sorry, this image is hidden due to censorship”, or something similar, “Click link in bio to see our products for adults”. You can use a blurred image, foggy mirror, foggy window, foggy shower stall, image of a mouth with an “X” taped over it, and woman making a “Shhh” gestures, lots of ideas you could come up with. The point is, think outside-of-the-box!
  4. Use images of sex toy alternatives (or pervertables) like Lovehoney did with provocative copy. Viewers will get the hint.
  5. Finally, use humor. Who says sex toys can’t be funny? Don’t take yourself or your products so seriously. Take photos of dildos stuck in strange places, like this post “everyday uses for sex toys” and use them for door stoppers, toilet paper holders, the hood ornament of a car, or cat toy anyone?

Got some creative out-of-the-box marketing ideas you’d like to share? Let us know!

[i] References:

[i]Images from Lovehoney and Buzzfeed

https://www.thedrum.com/news/2024/04/17/ad-the-day-lovehoney-challenges-censorship-replacing-toys-with-everyday-objects
https://lbbonline.com/news/lovehoney-launches-provocative-not-a-sex-toy-campaign-to-challenge-advertising-censorship

Lovehoney uses household items to dodge sex toy ad rules