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Now Safe for TV: Female Desire

Trojan 'Vibrating Massager' Ads Suggest Topic No Longer So Taboo -- but It Might Depend on Who's Talking

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Do TV networks care about the female orgasm?

They're happy to depict sexual romps and steamy scenes in their TV shows, but when it comes to letting advertisers sell stuff that would create these situations for viewers, they have historically been less than eager.

The debate has been stoked anew by the presence of an ad for a "vibrating Tri-Phoria" personal massager from Church & Dwight's Trojan line of sexual-aid products. The direct-response commercial depicts a group of women at a bridal shower, with the bride-to-be getting three separate massagers from her pals. "Now that's a gift I can use," says the woman, as three of her friends emphasize that the device "really blows your hair back" -- and demonstrate the stand-up follicles to show it.

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Trojan: Wedding Shower

The product has "8 speeds and pulse patterns" and "3 interchangeable tips," the ad states, and is "designed to satisfy." Clearly, however, it's not for the skittish: The device is not for sale in Texas, Alabama and Virginia.

The Trojan Tri-Phoria commercials have sparked debate at TV networks, said one cable-network ad-sales executive. Many networks tend to run ads for such products at times when there is less risk that children will see them, but the Tri-Phoria ads have appeared on a Sunday afternoon on VH1, not just in the wee hours of the morning.

Add this to this various sightings of ads for Johnson & Johnson's K-Y Intense product -- called "Arousal Gel for Her" -- and it almost seems like TV outlets have gotten as comfortable talking about sex products for women as they are running Viagra commercials during Sunday afternoon football.

Some resistance
But not everyone finds the airwaves so welcoming. TV networks don't necessarily have a lot of incentive to run ads for sex products if they're otherwise wary, because spending on the category is relatively small. It might help if the product comes from a much larger overall marketer.

At Semprae Laboratories, an independent company, executives have been trying for months to run commercials promoting Zestra, an arousal oil aimed at women, but have met with resistance from networks, said Rachel Braun Scherl, president and co-founder of the Saddle Brook, N.J., company. "We are still having conversations about clearance and we're making moderate progress, but we are still in very limited time slots," she said.

"What I've heard is that complaints [from TV networks] tend to be less serious if you're a bigger customer," she added.

Spending on TV ads for Trojan and K-Y products is relatively small -- Johnson & Johnson and Church & Dwight spent approximately $26.9 million and $13.3 million, respectively, on those brands in 2009, according to WPP's Kantar Media. But each company throws significantly more to TV networks on the whole. In 2009, for example, J&J spent a whopping $851.5 million on overall TV advertising, while Church & Dwight spent an eye-popping $213.8 million, Kantar said. Running a few racy ads in hard-to-find timeslots may not be such an ordeal if the promise of a good relationship with a big-spending client is in the offing.

Armed with research
To get its Tri-Phoria ads on the air, Trojan reached out to networks ahead of time, said Jim Daniels, VP-marketing at Church & Dwight. Armed with research from Indiana University, Church & Dwight executives provided TV-network executives with data showing vibrator use during sexual interactions is common, with use being reported by approximately 53% of women and 45% of men between the ages 18 to 60. Church & Dwight also gave TV networks a preview of storyboards and used feedback to shape the commercials before submitting them for final approval, Mr. Daniels said.

According to Mr. Daniels, the Tri-Phoria ad has appeared on such networks as Viacom's VH1, MTV, Comedy Central and Spike; Discovery Communications' Discovery Health; A&E Television Networks' Lifetime Movie Network; Rainbow Media's Wedding Channel and AMC; and the Game Show Network, owned by DirecTV and Sony Pictures Entertainment. "On some of the networks we have all dayparts approved and on others it's 'late fringe' and overnight," he said. An MTV Networks spokesman said the Tri-Phoria spot was cleared for VH1 and Comedy Central without restriction, but only cleared to run on MTV after midnight.

Media outlets remain sensitive about hawking sex aids on their airwaves, but taking a "walk before you run approach" could help Church & Dwight boost its share of what it believes is $800 million to $1 billion spent on vibrators each year, Mr. Daniels said, adding that at present, the company commands less than 10% of that market. The company has run ads for other Trojan vibrators in the past, but the commercials were always restricted to late at night.

Sempare's Ms. Braun Scherl said her company has tried similar tactics with TV networks, but to little avail. "We didn't do a road show, but everybody goes through a version of the same process," she said. "We sent them the spots. Sometimes, you have to produce the spot and they'll approve it providing the execution is the same as the script."

Headed for broadcast?
Both companies want to see their ads in wider distribution. "We are making slow but steady progress, but it's a very long road," Ms. Braun Scherl said. Church & Dwight even hopes to move Tri-Phoria ads on to broadcast networks, according to Mr. Daniels.

Another tactic that may make such ads more palatable is aiming them at both genders. Johnson & Johnson's K-Y ads routinely feature couples discussing their sex lives while sitting in bed. Meanwhile, the Tri-Phoria ad shifts from the scene at the bachelorette party to one in which the bride-to-be shows off her three Tri-Phorias to her fiance. "Remember that massager that we talked about?" she asks. "We got three of them!" Her guy's response: "Sweet!"

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