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The Drum

Give Stigma the Finger: how Hot Octopuss took on the masturbation taboo

Manifest New York set out to change minds and start conversations with its Give Stigma The Finger campaign for Hot Octopuss. Dealing so directly with a generally taboo subject lead to the work being banned, but the team worked creatively to overcome a range of challenges. This entry was highly commended in the New Product Launch category of The Drum Awards for Marketing 2020.

The challenge

The sex toy industry has evolved massively over the last five years, growing to a 15bn dollar business in the US alone. However, the space is still shrouded in prejudice and stigma, and conversations around sex toys and masturbation remain taboo.

British sex toy company Hot Octopuss has fought tirelessly to eradicate that stigma since 2011. Through its inclusive line of sex toys aimed at men, women and trans people.

In 2019, the company briefed Manifest to launch its latest product – a finger toy called DiGiT – and continue its mission of breaking down taboos and opening important conversations around this topic.

The challenge for Manifest was to build a campaign that not only celebrated the new product, but also carried important messaging about the dangers of long-standing stigmas and prejudices. This campaign needed to feel authentic and needed to ignite a nation to stand up, take action and instigate change.

The strategy

The team created a strategy called Sex Not Stigma, emphasising thebrand’s overall mission. Hoping to create not just a campaign, but a movement, they were inspired by the new toy - which is designed to slip onto one finger - and came up with an appropriately risque slogan.

Show Stigma The Finger was a bold campaign that shone a light on the social stigma that prevents many women from achieving sexual fulfilment. It engaged defiant activists, who shed their clothes to front the campaign, while flicking the bird to prejudices they have overcome in life.

The team collaborated with world-renowned multi-disciplinary artist, Aleksandra Karpowicz, who is famed for photographing the naked body as a work of art. Karpowicz spearheaded the campaign’s casting process which called for women from all walks of life to come forward and share their stories. Over 500 women came forward to join the movement against stigma and the final six were photographed nude, giving the middle finger defiantly to the camera’s lens.

None had any previous modelling experience, but all had endured stigma and outdated attitudes that had become a barrier to their achieving sexual fulfilment. From racism and homophobia, to body shaming and ageism, this campaign was designed to call time on all kinds of prejudice.

The campaign

The photo series, and the stories of the women behind it, was turned into an out-of-home campaign and Manifest also built a campaign website that directed people to purchase one of the new Digit toys. Additionally, a share of profits would go to charities that each of the women had chosen, including Human Rights Campaign, Little People of America, SAGE, Race Forward, Project Heal and National Center for Transgender Equality.

But at the eleventh hour, campaign was banned by ad authorities on the grounds it was inappropriate content.

Manifest rose to meet this secondary, and possibly campaign-ending challenge. Not prepared to take no for an answer, they approached local street artists in New York. Won over by the campaign and its bold messaging, the community gifted the team a wall in the East Village, on which it could display the ads.

The team was able to turn the campaign's ban into an asset, giving the story more ammunition. Show Stigma The Finger was trying to deliver an important message about social taboos, and being censored.

Unafraid to tell this part of the story to the press, Manifest went all out with a hard-hitting release about the banned campaign. Alongside video and photo content from the East Village wall, they shared photos and video footage of it coming to life. The team teed up influencers from across lifestyle, fashion, health and wellness, feminism and sex verticals, calling for them to share photos of what they were 'giving the finger to' across their social channels on the day of launch.

The results

Despite the ad authorities trying to shut it down, Show Stigma The Finger went onto generate press coverage in both the US and UK, as well as overwhelming social media support. Recognised the experiences of the women featured, many came forward with their own tales of trauma and struggles with achieving sexual fulfilment.

This campaign was brazen, but it needed to be. Utilising a series of controversial tactics, Manifest strove to get its message across and make people take notice, underscoring Hot Octopuss's longstanding brand mission.

The outputs for the campaign demonstrated the immersive reach it garnered:

• 23mn OTS (earned) including coverage in the likes of Paper Magazine, Yahoo!, Health, Go Mag, Glam and Outfront

• 1mn social reach, made up of influencers and media titles

• 25k visits to the showstigmathefinger.com - the campaign website

• 3.5k of these hits came via the social content and 21.5k visits from earned coverage

• Positive sentiment around the brand Hot Octopuss increased by 230%

But more than that, this campaign sparked real change. Using our proprietary social listening tool, The Loop, the team was able to consider not only the outputs, but also the outcomes of this campaign:

• Conversations around homophobia were 31% more positive in the time immediately before vs after the campaign.

• Conversations around transphobia were 33% more positive in the time immediately before versus after the campaign

This campaign went further than just selling products and raising brand awareness. It sparked a global conversation around long-standing stigmas and prejudices standing in the way of healthy sex.

“The Show Stigma The Finger campaign has been exceptionally important in positioning our brand in a thought-leadership space in the sector as well as raising brand awareness. During the campaign we saw a big uplift in visits to our site and the campaign microsite. We also saw more in-depth discussion of the campaign and our brand on social media platforms. More importantly to us, we have seen more and more customers who are themselves disabled, trans, older or in any way perceived as outside the norm, joining our mailing list, following us on Twitter and sharing with us that they have been positively impacted by our campaign messaging." -Julia Margo, chief operating officer and co-founder, Hot Octopuss

This project was highly commended at The Drum Marketing Awards 2020. To find out which Drum Awards are currently open for entries, click here.