Dame, a sex toys company for women, and Unbound, a female sexual wellness company, are no strangers to controversy around the products and messages these brands sell.
The two, however, have decided to join forces and roll out a campaign dubbed “Approved, Not Approved,” to show consumers the seemingly arbitrary choices the MTA and social platforms make around deeming what type of content is appropriate and what’s not. The two companies have dealt with numerous challenges with advertising their products and messaging on the MTA and Outfront Media (which handles advertising on the MTA) and on social platforms, even despite working closely with the MTA to come up with more acceptable campaigns. The campaign wants to address these disparities and highlight how some other companies—such as those dealing with erectile dysfunction—are allowed to advertise on these platforms with no issues.
“Dame and Unbound have to create moments to create conversations,” said Polly Rodriguez, CEO and co-founder of Unbound. “It’s not a sustainable business model, but it’s what we continue to do so that these policies change and are not so gendered.”
The “Approved, Not Approved” campaign comes in the form of a website, where people can take a quiz and decide which ads can make the cut as appropriate advertisements—and which ones don’t. Some of the ones that are “approved” include the infamous OkCupid’s “DTF” ads. An MTA spokesperson reiterated that the organization’s advertising policy does not allow any advertisements for sex toys or devices “for any gender.”
Dame Products sued the MTA earlier in June, on the basis that the MTA violates the company’s right to “free speech, due process, and equal protection under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”
“We don’t comment on pending litigation, but this marketing campaign seems designed to get the company free publicity,” the MTA spokesperson said. “Advertising for FDA-approved medication—including sexual dysfunction medication for any gender—is permitted. In its proprietary capacity as the operator of a transit system used by all New Yorkers, the MTA is constitutionally entitled to draw reasonable content-based distinctions between different types of advertisements and to consider its diverse customers. We intend to vigorously defend this lawsuit and will be represented by the preeminent First Amendment lawyer Victor Kovner and his colleagues.”
In addition to the website, the duo is using the collective force of other organizations in the industry to share the website—and offer to join a protest the two brands are holding in front of Facebook’s offices in New York. While both brands have had plenty of woes with the MTA, the two have also faced similar headwinds on the digital platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Rodriguez and Alex Fine, CEO and co-founder of Dame Products, both said that while Facebook and some of the digital platforms are willing to at least engage in a dialogue with them, there’s still no clear path for the brands to advertise on these platforms. In addition to issues around advertising on the platform, Fine said Dame’s Instagram account was once taken down, and it took Dame’s partners and customers to reach out to Instagram and ask the company to bring the account back online.
“The content of the ad itself isn’t problematic,” Rodriguez said. “We can’t promote it on the basis of who we are as a company.”
Part of the bigger issue that Fine and Rodriguez want to bring to light is the “vicious cycle” that the lack of advertising brings to companies like theirs. When they can’t advertise, Rodriguez said, it also affects their ability to raise venture capital—and puts a lot more on a founder’s shoulders to work on changing advertising policy as opposed to leading and growing a company. So, with campaigns like “Approved, Not Approved,” Fine and Rodriguez want other leaders in the space–whether it’s Ro, the wellness company that started with Roman, a men’s sexual wellness company or even leaders at P&G—to take a stand.
“It’s a really great opportunity for these other brands to speak out about it,” Rodriguez said. “You have a moral obligation to ensure there’s equality in the marketplace.”