7 September 2018 Courier Aug/Sept 2018

Lessons on advertising in adversity

Prohibited from advertising on many media channels, Unbound has found alternative ways to get the message out, and lowered its cost per acquisition in the process.

A cursory scroll through Instagram throws up adverts for countless direct-to-consumer brands. One that’s missing, however, is sexual wellness company Unbound. It’s not allowed to advertise its dildos or clitoral gels on social media.

The list of platforms Unbound is prohibited from advertising on is extensive: as well as Facebook and Instagram, it is banned from Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Taboola and Outbrain. It is near impossible to put marketing messages out on Google, too.

It’s hardly the first company that’s found itself in this situation, though. In the 1990s, with a ban on cigarette advertising around the corner, several tobacco ‰firms registered a range of products such as clothing, beer, stationery and even cars against their brands. Marlboro is o›ften cited as a pioneer of this, with a range of t-shirts bearing the company’s logo.

Sharing is caring

The difference for Unbound is that, in an age where customers are willing to promote brands which align with their personal values, it’s been able to develop a very cost-effective marketing strategy.

Founder Polly Rodriguez says Unbound spends just £2.30 to acquire a new customer, ‘which is unheard of in the world of direct-to-consumer startups’. By contrast, UK mattress company Eve spends around £245 per new customer.

The company has done this by touting its views on sex positivity; social media influencers who care passionately about the topic are often more than willing to promote the brand’s products on this basis.

Press power

The business has also been quick to turn rejection into valuable PR to drive awareness of the brand.

When Unbound’s advertisements were rejected for ‘obscene’ content by the Metropolitan Transport Authority, which controls advertising on the New York Subway (despite male sexual health brands Hims and Roman both running outdoor advertising campaigns across the city), it took the matter to the papers.

Images of the banned ads were published in stories in titles such as the New York Times and Fast Company, effectively getting the product message out there for free.

As a result, in less than a year Rodriguez says Unbound’s Instagram following has grown from 4,000 followers to 45,000 – all without spending a penny on advertising.

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