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How to market something that most people are afraid to talk about?

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

Narrative and campaign building around taboo subjects or products.

About three years ago, Mumbai-based startup Zlade Ballistic launched a men’s intimate hygiene brand (wait… men’s intimate, what?) in a country where the phrase ‘men’s intimate’ was only best complemented with words like ‘life’, ‘moments’ or very simply ‘sex’. The concept of hygiene to men was as non existent as their hairline post 40.

But then, someone had to break the ice one day. These are the Gen Z times, when condom brands are finding more Instagram followers than fashion models; when lubes, toys and vaginal health are selling on marketplaces; and when CBD and hemp products have started finding more takers than amla and aloe vera juice. Ab lage haath (no pun intended), why not talk about balls as well.

Cherry on the cake? The Greek God of all-things-sexy in India, Milind Soman, decided to endorse the brand. The rest, as they say, is history. There was so much that could have gone wrong with this campaign - Indian sentiments getting hurt, ASCI guidelines not met, or simply, a certain activist in our country of over a billion, wanting to sue us for saying a few things controversial. Everything just had to go right, and boy, it did! The campaign got a million views within the first 24 hours, thousands of memes and spoofs went viral and hundreds of ad critics gave us their thoughts, critical feedback and praises about the campaign. We were in business!

A few years before Zlade, another brand dared to be the first of its kind. It was called Bowl Hub (from the parent company of Burger Singh - the quirkiest restauranters in town). If the logo on this hoarding image makes any sense to you - you know what I am talking about. For those who’re scratching their heads - this delivery restaurant brand’s logo was the exact replica of that of Porn Hub’s. Not just the logo, but the entire communication - from naming food items to packaging design, social media and website - everything came together into one really innuendo-led midnight food delivery brand. Needless to say, the days (read nights for some of us… *wink wink) leading up to this brands’ launch were a rollercoaster best experienced first hand.

I had the fortune of working with both these brands. For the former as their marketing consultant and creative agency; for the latter as their marketing head. I realized it’s funny how everyday brands look for increasingly unconventional ways to market ordinary household products like pens, soaps and food; while brands with unconventional products have to sidestep everyday marketing techniques and tip-toe their way onto consumers’ Instagram feeds to get them to pay attention. The Indian cultural sensitivities run deep.

How does one stand out? How does one build (the right kind of) awareness? How does one break the clutter? My learnings can best be summarized into the following broad headers:

  1. Challenge perceptions: Well that’s what marketing is all about, isn’t it? Think of common stereotypes in your customers minds when it comes to your product or industry. Now think of breaking those stereotypes. Best example? Anne Summers’ ad film ‘Flick your Bean’. Who would have thought lingerie and toys can be marketed so seductively without showing even a single product. One of the most talked about campaigns of its times.

  2. Add lots of humor: This subject is mostly a difficult pill to swallow without a side of wit. Also in its absence, you may end up looking crass or vulgar. Make sure you choose your humor style well. Which side does your brand lean? Are we talking slapstick humor (think of Charlie Chaplin), or outrageously witty (look for Dollar Shave Club’s CEO’s film), or sarcastic and bold (well who doesn’t follow Wendy’s on Twitter). You need to have a clear understanding of your ‘style’.

  3. Initiate banter around the subject: Let’s talk about surround sound. Are you the only one talking about your campaign? Spend a crore on performance campaigns, but that won’t get you the kind of noise that a handful of well chosen influencers and media houses can get. Add to that some user generated content (UGC) and you’ve got yourself a potentially viral campaign.

  4. Add a social angle: Ballistic talked about hygiene and several STDs that can be avoided with intimate care. Durex celebrated pride month with #LoveLoudAndProud. These are brands that raised the bar above and beyond some cheeky taglines. They had a cause, a purpose that used bold messaging to bring attention to their case.

  5. Brevity at the center: The best campaigns are the ones that are written sharp, avoid verbosity and written in a clean, direct fashion. Jargons are the enemies of virality. In fact, think if your campaign needs multilingual or dialect translations to maintain relevance. The massier the brand, the more you would feel the need for this.

Brands need to take the risk, without coming off as a risk. They need to own their category, but maintain their identity. They need to balance the naughty and the nice.

And for the last time, that’s where we come in, smelling of sugar, spice…….and all things nice :) Because it's genuinely nice to have someone in your corner who not only understands what you’re doing, but believes in it too. We’re not taboo marketers, because we don’t believe in taboo products. Rather, just call us experts at Marketing The Unconventional.

Have a product that needs to go unconventional? You’ll find our digits on the contact page.

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