Here’s What I Learned Marketing a Product that People Are Too Embarrassed to Talk About
Many marketing campaigns approach embarrassing products with a cheeky ad. Whether it’s condoms, adult diapers, hemorrhoid cream, or sex toys, ads often feature a customer attempting to purchase an embarrassing product discreetly, only to be foiled by something that draws attention to them and their purchase.
This is certainly a good tack that puts the embarrassment of the product in the forefront, but it’s not the only approach to marketing taboo items. Often, the key techniques for marketing these products involve humor or euphemism, but the new channels for marketing present numerous opportunities to approach these campaigns creatively and attract more customer attention.
Marketing is always about storytelling, whether you’re selling a life-changing diet product, a new car, or an innovative after-sex product. Personal stories connect people to shared experiences and elicit an emotional response.
If the product is a touch embarrassing, a personal story can be disarming and make the product seem less intimidating.
So, what do you do if you don’t have a story? It’s fine to tell someone else’s story, such as a customer testimonial, as long as the details are changed. You can also embellish your story a little to make it more appealing for your audience.
No matter how good it is, not everyone will appreciate your story, especially with an unconventional product. You know as well as anyone that you have a specific audience, so focus on them and not what others’ think.
Use Humor to Disarm
As mentioned, companies with embarrassing products often approach marketing with humor that draws attention to the awkwardness. Though that’s effective, it’s not the only way to market or the only way to market with humor.
Come up with creative approaches to using humor as an icebreaker for your embarrassing product. You’ve created something that helps someone with an embarrassing problem – even if the solution is equally embarrassing – and it’s likely that the problem affects a lot of people. Leverage that in your storytelling to make the product less awkward, more approachable, and most importantly, not as a big a deal as it seems.
There are numerous ways to use humor in your campaigns, including customer testimonials, funny reviews, personal success stories, and video marketing. Humor is subjective, however, so be sure to approach the humor with sensitivity and avoid unintentionally offending anyone.
Ditch Traditional Approaches
Traditional marketing has its place in modern marketing, but it may not be the best choice for embarrassing products. People don’t like to feel like they’re being sold to, and to pitch something embarrassing, you need more than salesy content, scare tactics, and statistics.
Focus on the pain points. Your embarrassing product solves a real-life problem that people have, so think of how you can share that in a way that resonates. Empathizing with the people who have this problem or pain points and how you can fix it is an excellent way to address the taboo and create a message that sticks.
Keep Your Brand Strong
Brand personality is who you are as a brand and a valuable tool for establishing your brand in a crowded market. Consumers have a ton of choice today, so it’s up to you to set yourself apart.
Embarrassing, awkward, and controversial products and topics need a brand with a bold, straightforward approach that uses empathy, personality, and perhaps some humor. You can do this with fun spokesmodels or a vivacious character that reinforce the style, tone, voice, and values your brand has.
When your brand’s personality aligns with your values and messaging, you can create a memorable experience that stays with your customers.
Open the Conversation
When you create an awkward product, it’s not enough to hope people will find it. You know this problem exists and you found a solution for it, so you should be the one to start the conversation and get everything in the open.
Your customers may be searching for a solution to their problem, but may not know the best way to find the answers. Show them that there’s no shame and that others share their issue.
You have an excellent opportunity to show your empathy and prove that you care about your customers’ well being, which is why you created the product in the first place. Your customers may be shy, but you can make the topic approachable.
Make the Serious Less Serious
Plenty of brands have products that address embarrassing problems that may also be serious, such as erectile dysfunction or urinary incontinence. Instead of approaching them with cliché and innuendo, tackle the topic head-on and bring some lightness and ease to a difficult subject.
Cartoons, illustrations, and diagrams with compelling copy are valuable here. Keeping it modern and less like a late-night infomercial helps customers see the product as the “new” solution to a long-standing problem.
Also, instead of hiding behind the problem and your product as the solution, take the most embarrassing aspects and bring them into the light. Doing so with a little (sensitive) humor really helps. If you’re not sure you can do this on your own, bring in an influencer, spokesmodel, or agency to help you develop your messaging.
Strive to Educate
If humor isn’t the best option for your brand, you can take an inspiring and educational approach to your marketing. Tell your brand story and highlight the reasons that you started your company.
Maybe other market solutions don’t exist, or maybe they did and you knew you could do it better. Maybe there’s a deeply personal reason that you felt unsatisfied and created your own solution – like you suffer from the same problem yourself.
In all likelihood, the embarrassing product is intended to correct an embarrassing problem, so it has life-changing benefits for the customer. ED medication, adult diapers, and acne treatment products are all good examples of potentially life-changing solutions.
If you gave these results to your customers, some of them may be more comfortable sharing their personal stories to help others.
Break Down Barriers
In the age of the internet and online shopping, customers no longer need to be humiliated by shopping for personal products in person. They’re more inclined to try an embarrassing product if it can be delivered to them, so highlight the ways your company removes barriers for them.
Make it clear that your product ships in discreet packaging and shows up as something vague on a credit card statement. Offer free samples or a free trial to let customers try your product out before committing to it.
Breaking down these barriers eliminates some of the embarrassment and shyness that comes with shopping in person or scheduling doctor’s visits or consultations.
Do a Real Product Demo
While this may not work for every type of product, a real product demo can go a long way in removing some of the stigma and taboo of an awkward product. A famous example of this was when Katie Couric addressed colon cancer following the death of her husband.
Her efforts were directed at raising awareness more than increasing sales, but it was marketing all the same. In a bold move, the news anchor underwent a live, on-air colonoscopy to show people that it isn’t an embarrassing thing – it’s a necessary thing. As a result, colonoscopies rose among the population for nine months.
Naturally, this would be a bit extreme for some products, but the lower-profile versions of it would include models showing off their urinary incontinence underwear or celebrities proudly showing off before-and-after photos when using acne treatments. It doesn’t have to be invasive to remove the stigma.
Start a Private Facebook Group
Social media opens a lot of opportunities for discreet marketing. A private Facebook group allows people with the same problem to get together and offer advice or support for embarrassing conditions or situations. You can start a group to create this community and break down some of the walls surrounding the issue.
One of the best aspects of this strategy is that you can target people based on search history. While some won’t partake in a group because of privacy concerns, others may enjoy having a safe, nonjudgmental space to discuss their problems and solutions.
Keep in mind that these groups must be strictly moderated to avoid any disparaging remarks or hostile environments that make people more uncomfortable. A private or invite-only group is ideal for ensuring the members are positive additions.
Ignore the Haters
When you have embarrassing or not-safe-for-work products, it’s a given that you’ll attract some haters along the way. This happens to everyone, regardless of brand or industry, and you’re more likely to have detractors if you’re selling something that pushes the limits.
But it doesn’t matter – these people are not the ones you’re trying to reach. You’re here for you audience, so ignore the people that disparage or insult your brand or the people who use your products. You may even have your content banned or reported, but that will force you to be more creative in reaching your audience.
Always have a contingency plan in place, however. Enough bans or reports could lead to your campaigns being pulled or your whole social media accounts being closed.
Don’t be afraid to show your true self as a brand. You’re a maverick, a trailblazer – the one who tackles the topics most won’t touch. Some people won’t like it, but your ideal audience will be thankful for your brand and how you bring value to their lives.
About the Author!
Frances Tang is the founder/Captain Awkward/CEO of Awkward Essentials, a company that makes products that address the unspoken parts of hygiene. She is also the inventor of the dripstick — an after sex cleanup sponge. Frances Tang never intended to build a company around a post-sex cleanup tool, but the Awkward Essentials founder saw a need — and an opportunity — for an entrepreneur willing to go there. Now, Frances is leading a revolution for female founders, showing that fearlessness is a founder’s most important value.