Tech Marketing

Under the Skyn: the condom brand spurning TV ad restrictions for voice tech, VR and print


By Katie Deighton, Senior Reporter

July 20, 2018 | 6 min read

Skyn’s futuristic campaign mapping the demise of sexual intimacy (cause of death: technology) epitomises the condom brand’s approach to marketing – one that falls outside of conservative titillation to explore the real, and the next.

Jeyan Heper, the chief executive of Skyn’s parent brand, LifeStyles, is frustrated. His job is to drive the sale of “protective solutions” (namely condoms and lubricants) but that job is made difficult the world over by those in control of the traditional media platforms it requires.

Aside from the stringent testing and development that all Skyn products must go through as medical devices, the taboos surrounding the brand’s communications form its biggest challenge in the market.

“In certain markets you cannot put a condom advert on TV before 9pm,” says Heper. “Last year we did a very interesting lubricant ad in France, it was the most hilarious thing you could imagine, but it was censored by the watchdog. I cannot put it on a billboard either.

"So, I take it online."

YouTube, Facebook and YouTube have provided Skyn with a 24/7 screen that’s free from the protective eyes of the ASA, FTC ad numerous other national standards authorities. Its Places of Intimacy ad, which features an assortment of beautifully shot steamy scenes, has so far racked up nearly 50,000 views on the former.

However the platforms still prove tricky when it comes to showing anything that would be rated higher than a PG-13 certificate, particularly on the Zuckerberg-owned properties, which have been critiqued in the past for their censorship of the female anatomy. It’s still “impossible to show nipples on Facebook and Instagram,” for instance, according to Heper.

“If it’s about protection then okay, we can talk – but if it’s about pleasure then we [experience] censorship.”

So, working with its agency of record, Sid Lee Paris, Skyn has again looked beyond the norm to other modes of communication. Their aim is not to bypass regulation per se, no matter how much they disagree with some of its nuances. Rather, the issues involved with distributing condom advertising with an edge has proven itself to be a creative challenge – one that has flung up some interesting responses synonymous with the brand’s millennial-targeting, challenger status.

Over in China, for instance, Skyn is experimenting with virtual reality in order to build its brand identity, taking care not to tread into the realm of VR pornography. Heper is unsure if VR is an appropriate medium to trial in other regions, but believes East Asia to be “most receptive” to the branded tech.

China also a key market for testing new ecommerce strategies as “a significant portion” of LifeStyles’ sales in the country are made online.

“It’s a huge country, the cities are condensed, and you don’t want to go shopping just for condoms,” Heper explains. “Whereas in other markets, people still don’t mind picking up a box in pharmacies.” One of his major goals is to grow online sales in all markets, however; high street shelves – with all their POS restrictions – are to ecommerce what TV is to YouTube for Skyn.

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The brand has even launched an Alexa Skill, which was lampooned (albeit briefly) in Amazon’s Super Bowl ad, ‘Alexa Loses Her Voice’. The brand teamed up with five DJs to curate five amorous playlists specifically designed for – well, you know what. When an Echo user lets the voice assistant know that they’re “sexy” or “intimate” the music will start playing, leaving couples to carry on with the task in hand.

The voice tech sits comfortably alongside a newer, and altogether more analogue product – the Places of Intimacy guide. The publication is essentially a hotel guide, just one that overlooks room service and cleanliness to focus instead on ‘the most spacious bath, the most resistant curtains, the wildest carpet, or the mirrored room’. The first-hand reviews were written by Skyn consumers, and the print version is also served up online.

Again, the campaign wasn’t developed to be an old-fashioned way to pass advertising under the noses of watchdogs – it was designed to speak to Skyn’s core audience: millennials discovering that sex can get lost amid a hectic life of work, travel and technology. Skyn wants to be the brand that slides into these relationship cracks – a plight laid bare in its latest campaign, ‘Save Intimacy’.

“What really stuck with our creative director was the notion of when Netflix arrives to market the sex rate drops 10%,” says Alex Pasini, senior vice president of global alliances at Sid Lee. “Black Mirror was very much the top of that reference – it raises some good questions regarding the world of technology and its relationship with us as humans.

"[We asked] where can you go with that, and of course looked at making it ownable.”

Sid Lee’s attention to craft is what sets the realness of the couples featured in Skyn’s advertising apart from the likes of Durex, which in recent years has taken a more blog-style, grassroots approach to its casting and creative. Meanwhile Trojan in the US still plonks for a with comedic, narrative style.

The Save Intimacy hero film, on the other hand, is a dystopian imagining of a future without real human connection; couples embrace but scroll through their smartphones and sleep top-to-tail at either ends of the bed, while even strip clubs are barely filled with uninterested punters and a holographic performer. Shot by Terence Neale, the spot captures Skyn’s premium aesthetic: ordinary people, filmed beautifully.

And ironically, it would easily get shown on TV. There’s isn't an ounce of nudity – or pleasure – in sight.

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