What I learned from marketing a product people are too embarrassed to talk about

Embarrassing products—the bane of marketing. Many marketing campaigns for embarrassing products, such as intimate care, adult diapers, condoms, or hemorrhoid cream, feature a humorous— if outdated —approach to draw in customers.

Humor is always good, since it brings attention to the product in an approachable way. But it doesn’t need to be that cookie-cutter and old-fashioned. Often, the key techniques for marketing embarrassing products involve creativity and paving the way for people to speak comfortably and openly about the problem.

Here are seven things I learned from marketing a product people are too embarrassed to talk about.

1. Root the story behind the product or company in a personal experience

Marketing an uncomfortable product is, well, uncomfortable. Coming at people with something embarrassing can be off-putting, so consider telling the story from your personal experience. People who can relate will silently agree and listen to what you have to say. The people who can’t relate will ignore you, but they weren’t your target audience anyway.

Maybe you created an all-natural, extra-strength deodorant because you were tired of your own body odor. Maybe you had one too many embarrassing intimate situations and sought to find a solution for removing butt hair. Take what’s embarrassing and lean into it.

2. Do not use statistics or traditional pitch methods

Traditional marketing has its place in modern marketing, but maybe not for uncomfortable products. People don’t want to be sold to, especially when it’s embarrassing. Ditch the scare tactics, statistics and salesy content and get real with your audience.

The last thing an embarrassing product needs is a stiff, traditional advertising pitch. Your idea is out of the box, so don’t fall back on statistics about how many people suffer from this problem or overly academic approaches to the problem and its solutions. You’re not reaching the audience, and the ones you do reach will only feel attacked and more self-conscious.

Instead, focus on the pain points. Your product solves a problem—and a difficult one, I imagine – so share that in a way that connects with people. Use empathy and understanding: They’re not alone, and you have the tools to help them.

3. Use humor to break the ice

What better way to talk about uncomfortable, embarrassing, taboo or awkward topics than with some humor to break the ice? This method has been effective for many embarrassing products, even in the past.

The best part is that you can use a wide variety of humor. If your brand is a little edgy, you can push the envelope a bit (without being offensive!) to broach the topic. Or, if playful is more your style, you can use a quirky fictional character, a parody, or a stand-up style skit—whatever works for your brand’s personality.

Aside from breaking the ice, you’re bringing the most embarrassing aspects of your product and the problem it solves into the mainstream. Doing this with respectful humor helps. If you don’t feel right doing it yourself, collaborate with an influencer or spokesmodel to develop your messaging.

Remember the “Women Poop” commercial that shook the world? Humor works!

4. Develop a strong brand personality

Brand personality defines who you are as a brand. If your brand was a person, what would he or she be like? Funny? Quirky? Aloof? Warm? Welcoming? Bold?

Brand personality is also vital to establishing your brand among competitors. Consumers have no shortage of choices, so give them something distinctive.

Your brand personality is even more important with an embarrassing product. Marketing awkward stuff can feel like walking on eggshells. Establish a strong brand personality that guides the conversations and copy to ensure that you’re coming across the way you want.

The worst strategy with embarrassing products is to adopt a wishy-washy approach— traditional one second, edgy the next, funny in between. Decide who your brand is, then stick to it to offer a memorable experience.

5. Start the conversation

You created a product to fill a need. People suffer from the problem you’re solving, so you know they’re out there. They may be searching for a solution, but they don’t know how to go about finding the answers.

They don’t want to bring attention to themselves in their search, however, so it’s on you to be the pioneer and break the ice. You can show them that there’s no shame—other people struggle, too, and you care. You’re here to help.

You’ll find that once you start talking about the taboo stuff, people will feel more comfortable coming forward and talking about it, too. They only needed to know they weren’t alone and have someone speak openly and honestly to gain the confidence themselves.

6. Don’t let it get to you

When you’re marketing an embarrassing product, you will attract haters. They’re everywhere, whether you’re marketing sex toys or traditional products like banking services, and you’re more likely to attract them with controversy.

The internet is a comfortable place for many to feel empowered to say whatever they want, to whomever they want. You must have thick skin because you will get all kinds of backlash (and I mean ALL kinds, from funny to mean and everything in between). Don’t let it get to you; they’re not your audience.

Remember: Attention doesn’t have to be positive to have an impact. Sure, you want your interactions to be positive, but you can’t please everyone. Negative comments and controversy will help you spread the word about your business, especially on social media.

7. Embrace the embarrassment

No one said marketing an awkward product would be easy. It requires some creativity and an empathetic approach, thick skin, and a maverick who’s ready to tackle the topics that others won’t broach. Not everyone will like it, but your ideal audience will be thankful for your product that solves their problem, and a brave pioneer like yourself who brought it into the light.

Contributed by Frances Tang, founder, Captain Awkward and CEO of Awkward Essentials, a company that makes products which address the unspoken parts of hygiene. She is also the inventor of the dripstick, an after-sex cleanup sponge. Frances Tang never intended to build a company around a post-sex cleanup tool, but the Awkward Essentials founder saw a need—and an opportunity—for an entrepreneur willing to go there. Now, Frances is leading a revolution for female founders, showing that fearlessness is a founder’s most important value.

For more insights and inspiration from today’s leading entrepreneurs, check out EO on Inc. and more articles from the EO blog



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