Season 2, Episode 6: Marketing the Unmentionable
This week on Outsmart, Nicole and guest host Steph Proos chat with Social Media & Digital Content Manager at ASTROGLIDE, Emily Davis.
In the episode we explore:
- The delicate dance around advertising restrictions for taboo products
- Creating strategic solutions when typical promotion avenues are limited
- Letting your audience’s behavior influence your social strategy per platform
Emily: Honestly, I go home and tell my husband about, like, let me just tell you what we talked about in a meeting today, and he’s like, how do you get away with that? The content of our meetings is definitely not something I’ve ever experienced with any other brand.
Steph: I mean, none of us either from the client side. Like, every time someone joins the account, I’m like, you will say things to this client that you would never in a million years think about saying to anyone else.
Emily: And also, don’t say it to any other clients.
Nicole: Welcome to another episode of the Outsmart podcast. For our listeners, we are live in San Diego well, live this won’t be live, but we are live together in our San Diego office. And I am joined by Stephanie Proos of TEAM LEWIS who heads up our San Diego office and our consumer PR practice. And she is standing in for my cohost, Rex Petrill, today.
Steph: I’m coming for your job, Rex.
Nicole: Yeah, Rex, watch it. So, Steph has very kindly brought Emily from one of our longstanding partners, ASTROGLIDE. And Emily heads up social media and content at ASTROGLIDE. And we are so excited to talk to you today. I’m so glad that we scared you with all of our lights and cameras.
Emily: Yeah, this is absolutely terrifying.
Nicole: Yeah, I sold Emily on this by telling her how laid back and relaxed we were and how easy this would be. And she showed up today and we’ve got all the lights and cameras, but still very relaxed. We’re casual. No big deal. Welcome to Outsmart.
Emily: Thank you. I’m super excited to be here and also excited that I brushed my hair today because I did not know it was going to be on camera. But yeah, happy to be here. Happy to chat.
Nicole: Yeah. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work at ASTROGLIDE? And obviously, Steph, you know Emily well, right? You guys have worked together for years, so feel free to help us steer in any direction, but why don’t you introduce yourself?
Emily: Yeah. So, I’ve been with Biofilm, who is the manufacturer of ASTROGLIDE, we make a few other products as well for a few years now, and I head up social media and digital content and manage our influencer and brand ambassador programs.
Steph: She makes it sound like it’s a couple of things when really, it’s like a million things.
Nicole: Yeah, I’m like I think I heard about five different jobs in that description.
Emily: Yeah, that was sort of scratching the surface. I do wear a lot of hats, but it’s a super fun brand, as you can imagine, to work with. Yeah, for sure. I mean, Steph, you can attest to us. We have these daily task force calls at TEAM LEWIS, and it’s just kind of a global gathering of our executive team, and we’ll kind of dig deep into some of the problems we’re trying to solve with different clients. And every time ASTROGLIDE is up Emily, I kid you not, there are certain people who we just have to say, you cannot join because you have too much fun.
Steph: And also, they’ll just giggle the whole time because they can’t keep straight faces with the things that we talk about.
Emily: Honestly, I go home and tell my husband about, like, let me just tell you what we talked about in a meeting today, and he’s like, how do you get away with that? And I’m like it’s amazing. We have a great group of people. The content of our meetings is definitely not something I’ve ever experienced with any other brand.
Steph: I mean, none of us either from the client side. Like, every time someone joins the account, I’m like, you will say things to this client that you would never in a million years think about saying to anyone else.
Emily: And also, don’t say it to any other client.
Nicole: Right, yeah. There’s like, a filter you remove, or I feel like IT probably had to do some serious work.
Steph: Yes, we have special privileges. We are not looking at inappropriate things just for fun. It is actually work.
Emily: Yes. It’s also a skill set, I think, to be able to turn on the like, we’re having very inappropriate conversations for a purpose and then turn it off in, like, a setting at work where you’re like, I probably shouldn’t have this conversation with my employee. It’s a whole HR fun balance.
Nicole: For sure. Well, I remember when we started working with you all and some of just, like, the nuances that you come across and some of the barriers to entry with different ad platforms and what we can and can’t talk about, and talk to us a little bit about how you kind of see around those and still find a way to creatively reach your audiences.
Emily: It’s really tricky. I mean, I came from a background of, like, food and beverage, and there was restrictions on you know, I did a lot with wine, so alcohol has restrictions on different channels, but this is, like, a whole new level because we are a personal lubricant. So, it’s a sexual health product that a lot of people associate with pleasure, but we’re also a medical device that’s regulated by the FDA, so we’ve got restrictions on social platforms that we can’t advertise, and then we’re restricted by the FDA in terms of what claims we can actually make. So, there’s a ton of review that goes into any content that goes out, more so than any brand I’ve ever worked with where it’s like, from a regulatory perspective, what are we able to say? And then will TikTok take this down? Will Instagram take this down? So, there’s definitely a very calculated approach in the way we message our products.
Steph: And some of it is a little bit trial and error, too, on how consumers will react to things as well. Like, we might think something’s great and then it falls flat like our little April Fool’s Day stunt that we did on social this year. We were laughing. It was lube for dogs, and we couldn’t think of anything funnier. And we ended up getting some backlash on Twitter, mostly from consumers because they were like, is this bestiality? Are you recommending that we actually have sex with our animals?
Emily: It’s hard when you’re in the bubble of like, sometimes you’re too close to it, where we’re like, this is hilarious. Of course, people are going to know that this is a joke. It’s a lube for dogs. It’s absolutely demented and it’s funny. And then you’re like, oh, wait, the people on social media are insane and they’re going to take it in like a really weird direction. So, it’s a challenge for sure.
Steph: Even beyond that, like, even something that’s just our day-to-day, right? When we changed our campaign and we took our video, our ad videos to a different place on YouTube and it was a little bit steamier than what had previously been used across our ASTROGLIDE advertising. And we got people that basically were like, we’re not going to buy you anymore. Like, you went too far. Which is very interesting because the whole reason you’re buying us is to use this product to have sex. And we’re depicting people in steamy situations, and it was too far for them.
Emily: I think one of the things we learned from that, though, was it’s one thing if you’re a subscriber to our channels or you’re following us on social media, you expect that content. But we’ve learned with our video ads that if they’re too steamy and you get served an ad and you’re like, I’m just going about my day, and then all of a sudden there’s like a couple getting it on in the back of a car, you’re like, I’m sorry, I haven’t even had lunch yet and this is a lot. So, like, you might be one of our key targets, but it really matters where and when it’s presented to you. So we’ve had to change, I think, some of our video creative strategy to be like, how can we make this empowering and sexy without, like, slapping people in the face with it when they’re not really prepared for it?
Nicole: That’s really interesting. So really drawing a line between your organic and paid strategies. If someone is subscribing and they’re here for that content here for a reason, then you can kind of push the boundaries a little bit versus, like, if you’re targeting broader awareness and reaching different audiences to your point that the steamier content may turn someone off.
Emily: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the people that come to our website and to our social channels are the ones that are like, I want sex tips, I have sexual health questions. But reaching a broader audience, which is really challenging for us with the advertising restrictions, we have to do a really delicate dance based on the platform and the channel that we’re trying to reach those people on.
Steph: Yeah. So, we’re a regulated industry on Facebook and Instagram and we can’t advertise at all. So, what would normally be part of our day-to-day program for combining social and paid social, we don’t have that. So, all of the growth that we’ve had over the last four years when we’ve been working together has been organic grown from doing things with ambassadors and influencers and literally just hoping that our content is relevant and fun for people that they want to come and check us out. So that’s been really challenging because we see other brands like Trojan or even Viagra that are allowed to do paid advertising and we’re not.
Emily: Yeah, there’s a very frustrating sort of double standard in terms of advertising.
Nicole: A blurry line, it seems.
Emily: Well, it seems like if it’s for men perceived as being for men, you know, it’s like condoms and erectile dysfunction medication they can advertise, but like lube, even though we’re a medical device, it’s aligned with pleasure, which God forbid anyone has pleasure and anything, and that we advertise that. But I have seen actually in the last year that Meta has changed some policies where we can they say you can advertise lubricant if it’s for dryness or for like a medical purpose versus pleasure. But we are still having trouble getting past, like, the gatekeepers because as I’m sure a lot of people who are listening know, the inconsistency applied with people reviewing those ads on those platforms is sort of all over the place. But yeah, we’ve had to get super strategic in the way that we try to reach people. We’ve done, like, sampling programs with companies that people will share our products if they get the sample, they’re going to share it on social. We have a ton of influencer partnerships. We partner with likeminded brands that are also trying to grow their following and reach people who may also be interested in our product. And then we try to create really fun, informative, interesting content that will reach the people that are looking for it. But it’s definitely it’s like we get over one wall, there’s another one, and it’s just strictly because we’re talking about sex and having a good sex life, which really shouldn’t be so taboo.
Steph: Which I also think is interesting in some of the rules that Med has changed because something like dryness yes, it’s one of the factors of reasons that you would use lube. But I also think it’s one of the biggest misconceptions that we’re always trying to combat is that people think, oh, I don’t need this because I can satisfy my partner in a way that they’re naturally lubricated. Right. And that’s something that we’ve been trying to combat since ASTROGLIDE was formed, is that it’s used for so many other areas to enhance your pleasure. So, then that gets into a space, too, where it’s only one of our message points that we want.
Emily: Right. No, that’s a great point because there is a stigma around using lubricant, both for men and women. It’s like, women are like, well, it feels like I have a problem if I need it. And our message is like, it makes everything feel better. Like, it adds pleasure, it encourages exploration. And those are all really good things for a healthy sex life. So just making it about like, well, you’ve passed a certain age and you’re dry or you’re taking people who take antidepressants or medication can have issues with dryness. That’s like one part of segment.
Nicole: Postpartum nursing. It’s a huge segment.
Emily: Girl, I hear you.
Nicole: Yeah, TMI but like, searching for after having my kid and the doctor saying, okay, you’re cleared, but you may want to use some sort of aid, and I had no idea where to start. And it’s a huge untapped audience and it’s something that you don’t even realize until you’re in that position of in that postpartum position live, and you’re like, oh, shit.
Emily: Yeah. I would like to be able to connect with my partner, but it doesn’t feel great right now. And we’ve even found we do a lot of work with health care providers, so we have a whole sampling program for doctors and practitioners to hand out to their patients. And we do trade shows with doctors. And its sort of surprising how many of them are like, how little they like, some of them know, some physicians are super well informed about sexual health, but some of them are like, if you’re menopausal, you need lube. And so, there is like, this education element in terms of your doctor where it’s like, hey, there’s a lot of benefits to using this.
Steph: I think that’s been one of the biggest benefits of our program. So, we partner with four ambassadors that are in either the medical space or sexual health and wellness. So, we have a urologist and an OBGYN and just a more of a sex therapist and a sex researcher. So, I mean, we leverage them for everything because that also brings third party credibility to us. Right? We use that for our social we use it for media relations, for any of our campaigns and focused on holidays and things like that. We’ve curated a really great group of people that are super diverse in their personal lives and in what they can provide to us. That helps with a lot of that.
Emily: Yeah, I think it’s sort of the backbone of our content strategy, too, is that they create a lot of content for us on a monthly basis, usually like a blog, that we then take that and break it into tons of social posts, and we make videos from it.
Steph: And they make videos.
Emily: They do. So, we have some really great expertise in house, but our ambassadors, I think, contribute. The quality of the content for this brand, for the size of our brand, I’m very proud of it.
Nicole: Yeah, well and it just goes to show you don’t need to have a multimillion-dollar ad budget. You don’t need to be everywhere all the time. It’s about knowing where your audiences are, having a really solid, grounded understanding of them, and it sounds like you all do. And then leveraging other avenues and other channels and using that Ambassador/Influencer Network and slicing and dicing everything in a smart way. So, you’re really getting the best bang for your buck, as it were, for all those different levers that you’re pulling.
Steph: From the media relations perspective, they’ve been paramount to our success on this program because as you can imagine, there’s only so many media that write about sexual, you know, sex, sexual health and wellness, and then there’s even fewer that if we’re not launching a new product, they’re not doing lube roundups every week. Right. So how can we get this brand new? Yeah, exactly. They’re not doing a lot of awards that lube is relevant for. We have our first one coming up with Ask Men, but we are able to leverage the ambassadors and their insight for 95% of our media coverage. So being able to submit them for HAROs and ProfNet’s and proactive pitching has just changed the game for us. And I will say, I think maybe I’m being biased, but compared to competitors that we win at media relations because we have these ambassadors to speak on such a variety of topics.
Emily: Absolutely. I feel like the lube and sex tips part is like this small slice of our content, but it’s like dating, relationships, health and wellbeing. And so, there’s a huge lifestyle component and I think our ambassadors really sort of cover all the bases of complete mental health and wellness, which I love.
Steph: I think that’s the other thing, too, with this brand is our target audience is so wide.
Nicole: Right. Yeah, it’s a huge and I was actually going to ask you, I know in our earlier intake conversations, we were talking about how I think you mentioned, Emily, that the sort of appetite for racier content a couple years ago was not there. And then you started kind of pushing the needle and seeing how audiences were responding and trying to speak to broader and different groups and really make it more a brand for everyone. So, I’d love for you to talk to us a little bit about that.
Emily: Being in social media, things change so rapidly anyway, but the way I think culturally, things are shifting in terms of sex positivity. It’s like accelerating. So, from the time I’ve been with ASTROGLIDE, which is honestly not even three years, the conversations on social media around sex were limited, I think in a little more niche where people aren’t willing to talk about embarrassing sex stories or share, like, whatever sort of things that are happening in their personal lives and relationships. And I think the emergence of video platforms like TikTok, people are very, like, comfortable talking about delicate things and it’s been huge for us because it’s trying to get people to engage on social media and on a platform like Facebook, when they’re talking about sex and your grandma is on Facebook, that’s not happening there, right? So, it’s like, TikTok has been wonderful for us.
Steph: Unless we’re in TikTok jail.
Emily: Which TikTok is also very challenging. You can’t show a sex toy or really talk about sex as openly. You have to sort of know how to get around it. And we get some videos taken down that we’re, like, we just showed ASTROGLIDE packaging from, like, 30 years ago. It was like a time lapse. None of it makes a ton of sense.
Nicole: Trial and error a little bit, yeah.
Emily: But I think one thing we’ve learned, and I feel like I may have lost the thread of the question, but one thing we’ve learned is that there are certain platforms where we can just kind of go nuts and be like the kind of people that we are sort of in the office and have the conversations we have that are really, like, funny and racy and risky. And that is absolutely Twitter. Twitter is such a fun place for us to have conversations and we’ve learned, like, we can do that here. And on Facebook, it’s like, we’re definitely more informative. Here’s our product. Here’s some information you might want. We know on Instagram, we have a larger female following that is really looking for useful empowering information. And then on Twitter, it’s just sort of.
Steph: Twitter is amazing. I mean, even over the last couple of years. So, we’re in the midst of COVID, right? The ship gets stuck in the Suez Canal. We take that to our advantage, right? We slap an ASTROGLIDE logo on a tanker truck and just post, we’re on our way to help. Bezos launches his rocket, which we all know, let’s be honest, looked like a penis. ASTROGLIDE is on its way, right? And I think even in the last several months with Jonathan on your team joining the day-to-day chatter that goes on. That he’s been able to incorporate ASTROGLIDE into is beyond.
Emily: This is the other thing. Speaking specifically to people who are running social media. You have to have people on your team that you trust to make decisions in the moment. Because I’ve worked with so many brands where it’s like. You go through this really excruciating review and approval process and social media like Twitter and TikTok don’t really work that way. You need to be in the moment responding and jumping on things, and they’re not always going to be like a home run, but you have to have someone on your team that you’re like, run with it. I trust you. Is it going to like, how much damage is it going to do? Right? You have to be nimble and not slowed down by, like, every person needs to have eyes on every process. Everyone has eyes on it, and it still flops. Lube for dogs.
Steph: Yep, lube for dogs. This goes back to our IT team not regulating what we’re looking at and stuff because a couple of weeks ago, Tommy Lee…
Emily: Oh, God. Yeah.
Steph: Just flat out posted a **** pic on all of his social platforms. I think it was taken off Facebook right away. Right. But it’s still on Twitter. And our team came across it, flagged it in our group chat with Emily and them, and we were like, obviously we have to be commenting on this. And it just went through the roof for that afternoon. And it was I don’t know. It’s still one of my like I just think about it randomly. Like, one he just posted it, and he was like, here we are.
Emily: I can’t get it out of my head.
Steph: Everyone goes and Google’s Tommy Lee **** pic after listening to this, I’m like, It’s two in the morning, buddy. You need to go to sleep. This is a lot.
Steph: It was yeah, but I mean, it was just one of those things on Twitter that you have to jump on this. Obviously, this is an ASTROGLIDE conversation that we need to be a part of.
Emily: And I think we’ve had situations where something interesting has come up and we’ve waited on approval from somebody else, and then the moment, it’s like, it’s not going to happen, and that’s okay.
Steph: I think the other thing is too, though, there are times where we go silent on social. I think a lot of that obviously happened with COVID, right. When everything was happening then with BLM, even when the queen passed away, we went silent that afternoon. Right? Like, just being observant of what’s happening in the US, and the world and navigating do we need to pause content today? Do we need to pause content for an entire week? That’s conversations that we have to be having in the moment, too.
Emily: I think we learned a ton. I started a few months before COVID and we had this whole plan, and everything was planned out like a month in advance, and it was all buttoned up, and then COVID happened and we were like, oh, my God, we have to change everything. Like, we can’t talk about nobody cares about the stuff we have planned. We have to join the conversation and figure out how to entertain and inform people that are at home in a way that is relevant to our brand and isn’t polarizing, which is like a freaking minefield.
Steph: Especially when you’ve got 7 million different target audiences.
Emily: Right? So, I think we became really nimble at when to join conversations and when to like, we’re just going to not say anything today? Or is this like, do we want to take a stand here? Or is this something that it’s like, we don’t have a place to speak in this space. And I think we’ve managed to do that. We’ve evolved and we’ve gotten a lot better at it.
Nicole: It sounds like, to really letting that audience behavior kind of dictate what your strategy is going to be. And to your point being, okay with being nimble and sometimes shit happens and you need to just completely shift your strategy, and yet people aren’t going to give a shit about what your plans were and what your moments in time were and just being able to kind of change on a dime. And that’s really important. And to your point, I love the point you made, Emily, about having someone on your team that you trust to make those decisions. Because the chain of command can completely dilute a good idea and can also take too long and then that moment, it’s gone.
Emily: And a lot of times it’s like, sometimes and I think I’m guilty of like, oh, should I do this? Should I not? Like, what if it? And sometimes you just have to be like, I’m going to go with my gut. And most of the time, the people in leadership behind us are like, do your job, and it’s okay to take some risks. But I mean, social media is a very scary place.
Nicole: Someone will troll you.
Emily: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one of the things I think we’ve learned with all of the sort of, like, political ups and downs over the past few years is that social media can be troll-y, but people have this power that they didn’t to call out brands for being like, do you stand for what you say you stand for? So, it’s like, we know, like, one of our biggest consumers are the LGBTQ community. So, we have a lot of messaging that goes behind that, but we also back that up with support for community centers all over the country. We make a lot of donations to LGBTQ groups because we know that, like, if we slap a Pride flag up on our profile picture for the month of June, people are going to call us out for it.
Steph: Every brand, you know, every other brand is doing right.
Emily: And I think too, it’s like when back in, like, I guess it was like June of 2020 with all of the Black Lives Matter protests happening, we were like, how do we everything I think every brand was like, how do we respond to this? Like, what do we do? You know, you have to figure out how to respond in a meaningful way. And we took a look at our content and the way that we were representing people of color, queer people, all of those kinds of things that we feel like we’ve been very inclusive and that it’s a value for us. And we were like, we can do better. We can carry this strategy throughout the year. We can work with more influencers in that space. We make sure, like, our ambassador panel is diverse.
Steph: Honestly, that shift was one of the biggest things that came out of COVID, because traditionally for Pride, we sponsor San Diego Pride, the Oceanside Pride, because ASTROGLIDE is located in San Diego, and obviously we’ve done things on social and stuff before. But with everything closed down in COVID, we didn’t have the opportunity to sponsor any of these in person. And we knew that the LGBTQIA+ community was one of the most heavily impacted during COVID. And so that gave us an opportunity just to look at our overall program and say, how can we make this more impactful? How can we show our allyship to people across the country? And since restaurants and bars are one of the biggest safe havens for a lot of LGBTQIA+ community members, and that’s where they make their chosen families, those restaurants obviously, were closed down. So, restaurants and community centers in some markets, like LA and New York and Boston, were where we spent a lot of our community focus, and it changed our entire Pride program. It’s now an award-winning program. We won a couple of awards for that one, and we replicated that this year. We updated it and changed it a little bit, but the community was still at the center, and I think that that was a big change that kind of just came in our direction because we were forced to with COVID.
Nicole: Well, Emily, thank you so much for joining us. And Steph…
Steph: Did I get the job?
Nicole: Yeah, Rex has a run for his money. I don’t know, man. So we’ll put this in his performance review.
Nicole: But yes, thank you for joining us on Outsmart. It was so great to have you. So great to be here in person. I really appreciate you coming out to the office.
Emily: It was super fun, despite the bright lights and the cameras. Yes, thank you for having me.
Nicole: Yes, thank you.