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NYC Mayor Bloomberg shuts down free sex toy giveaway

Aug 9, 2012

NY Times

A Surprise in a Hot Dog Cart


Published: August 6, 2012

New York City Mayor Michael R Bloomberg is clueless on that First Amendment thing of separation of church and state IT’S common in New York to see teams of college-age students handing out samples of goods like fruit juice and dog food. Even seen-everything New Yorkers may do a double-take this week, however, when they encounter street teams with hot dog carts stocked with vibrators.

In Manhattan, Trojan Vibrations will hand out 10,000 vibrators from two hot dog carts identified as pleasure carts.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Trojan Vibrations, a line of sexual enhancement devices, will hand out 10,000 free vibrators from two hot dog carts identified as pleasure carts. Along with the brand’s logo, the carts will feature sayings like “Getcha vibes here!” and “Relish the moment.”

Trojan plans to distribute 5,000 each of the Tri-Phoria device, which retails for $40, and the Pulse, which retails for $30, for a total retail value of $350,000. It goes without saying, surely, but Trojan asserts this is the biggest handout of vibrators ever.

The promotion begins Wednesday morning with a live commercial by Howard Stern on his show on Sirius XM Radio. The carts will roam Manhattan for two days, with their locations updated on the Trojan Vibrations Facebook page.

In what Bruce Weiss, vice president for marketing at Trojan, called “almost like a gateway product,” Trojan introduced a vibrating ring in 2005 that was included in some packages of condoms for an “improved condom experience.”

The brand began selling a small vibrator, the Mini, in 2009, and the larger Tri-Phoria in 2010. The strategy throughout for Trojan, a Church & Dwight brand, has been to challenge the stigmas associated with the products.

The company has advertised aggressively, even during prime time on some cable networks. In 2011, Trojan spent $10.5 million advertising its Vibrations line, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP.

Today, the Trojan devices are carried in retailers that were not on the radar for sex-toy shoppers a decade ago, including Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid.

So new are the devices to mainstream retailers that growth in that channel has been phenomenal. In the 52 weeks that ended July 8, revenue for sexual enhancement devices sold in drugstores and mass retailers grew 23.2 percent over the year before, to $16.1 million, according to the Symphony IRI Group, whose totals do not include Walmart. Trojan, which accounts for 66.2 percent of the category at such retailers, grew even more over the year, by 40.2 percent.

According to studies financed by Trojan and published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 52.5 percent of women and 44.8 percent of men have used vibrators. Contrary to perceptions that they are used nearly exclusively by the unaccompanied, 40.9 percent of women and 40.5 percent of men report having used them with sexual partners.

“What we’re doing is taking something like a hot dog cart that is so everyday and so mainstream,” Mr. Weiss said, “and we’re showing people that vibrators are mainstream.”

Two commercials for the newest Trojan Vibrations product, Twister, which retails for $60, promote it as a spark for couples. One begins with a woman on the telephone with a friend.

“All I did was mention it might be a Trojan Twister night and things totally changed,” she says, as her husband passes by first with a load of folded laundry, and then with an iron and ironing board.

“Come on, lazybones, shoe sale today,” he says at one point. Later, he pats the couch beside him with one hand, the remote in the other. “Big game?” he says. “Heck no, let’s watch ‘Desperate Bride Makeovers.’ ”

The campaign is by Colangelo Synergy Marketing in Darien, Conn., part of the Omnicom Group.

Carol Queen, curator of the Antique Vibrator Museum and a staff sexologist for Good Vibrations, a sexual products retailer founded in 1977, credits the new Trojan ads with “pretty seamlessly integrating men into the campaign.”

As both a sales strategy and to more accurately reflect how the devices are used, “a company needs to overcome this notion that vibrators are problematic for couples because men don’t like women to use them,” Ms. Queen said.

Rather than seeing the growing availability of the devices at mass retailers as a threat to specialty retailers like Good Vibrations, Ms. Queen said, “what’s fabulous about the way that Trojan has entered the marketplace is that a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Some consumers who buy their first device as an impulse buy at a mass retailer are apt to eventually be drawn to boutiques like Good Vibrations, which along with Trojan devices has a wide selection of other brands — and knowledgeable staff members.

“Going to a sexuality store like Good Vibrations or many others, you have trained people who can answer your questions and help you choose,” Ms. Queen said. “What most customers are probably not doing is getting the greeter at Walmart to come with them to the vibrator aisle and asking them, ‘Which one should I get?’ ”

Claire Cavanah, co-owner of Babeland, a sexual products shop with locations in Seattle and New York, lauded the plan by Trojan to distribute free devices.

“It sounds fantastic and I’m just delighted that there is a company that has the resources and the sex-positivity to do it,” Ms. Cavanah said.

At the annual BlogHer conference that began Aug. 2, Trojan Vibrations gave out 4,000 devices, meaning that the brand is on pace to give away more than 14,000 of the products in August, with a total retail value of $540,000. Mr. Weiss, of Trojan, said the brand gave out a few hundred of the devices from trucks around New York last summer, and wanted to have more impact this year.

“People were clamoring for the vibrators, and we thought that by giving out more vibrators, it would have more buzz, so to speak,” Mr. Weiss said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 6, 2012

An earlier version of this article misstated the dates for the giveaway campaign. It will run on Wednesday and Thursday, not Thursday and Friday.

City Shuts Down Trojan's Free Vibrator Cart


City Shuts Down Trojan's Free Vibrator Cart Near The Flatiron Building

Shlomo Sprung | Aug. 8, 2012, 5:40 PM

What was supposed to be a pleasurable experience for thousands turned into a large mess near the Flatiron building Wednesday afternoon as a Trojan vibrator giveaway was shut down by city officials because of an apparent permit issue.

This was supposed to be the hot dog stand Trojan was going to use to give away the free vibrators, which retail for roughly $40. Hundreds turned up for the giveaway but went home empty-handed.

When we got there, the line spanned an entire block, from 22nd to 23rd Street along 5th Avenue. It took quite a long time for the hundreds waiting on line, men and women alike, to figure out what was really going on.

Three ladies from Brooklyn, who were a bit shy to give out their names because of the sensitive nature of the giveaway, told us they had waited more than 20 minutes for Trojan to tell them they weren't going to get their vibrators. "It's a great idea," said one, "they should just find a way to do it legally." Her friend, who was also disappointed said "they're not a startup, they should have probably figured that out."

Trojan workers eventually rolled the hot dog stand back into a large Ryder moving truck and eventually drove away in this tinted black SUV.

Dan Bracken, Trojan's director of marketing services, said the promotion was officially shut down about 15 minutes after it was slated to begin because "there was confusion with the permit."

"Everything was in place, but I'm a bit sketchy with the details myself," he said.

Bracken said they wanted to give the vibrators away out of the moving truck, but officials said that it would be a safety issue, likely because people would start mobbing the employees in search of a free sex toy.

But ultimately, many who waited in line will get a free vibrator and have their happy ending. Trojan staffers were taking down email addresses so they could send those who waited around with their free swag.

And several other giveaways were planned for the NYC area, including in the Financial District, the Meatpacking District, and the East Village according to Trojan's Facebook page. But check in before you go, unless you want to be left high and dry like hundreds of others were today.