You won’t win over new customers by just waiting for them to find you. No, you have to be where the consumers are, you need to engage them, and having a clever idea to get their attention won’t hurt either. Doc Johnson had such a clever idea when they came up with the “Pop Up Pleasure Machine”, a vending machine for sex toys. The pink vending machine immediately catches the eye, as could be seen when it recently had its first public appearance at a vernissage in Los Angeles. Now, it is going on tour across the United States. As Erica Braverman, the Marketing Executive of Doc Johnson, explains the goal of the campaign is not really to get people to buy sex toys from a vending machine. In our interview, Erica and Social Media Manager Thao Dipolito tell us about the real purpose of the campaign – and about the tricky endeavour of reaching new consumers as an adult company.
What is the „Pop Up Pleasure Machine“? Erica Braverman: Doc Johnson has just released its Pop Up Pleasure Machine, a technicolour traveling sex toy vending machine (designed as an Instagram-worthy pop art installation) that celebrates taking control of one’s own pleasure in a tongue-in-cheek and unexpected way. The ‘Pop-Up Pleasure Machine’ has already popped up at two events in Los Angeles, and will continue its multi-city tour to on-trend events and venues going into 2018.
The Pop Up Pleasure Machine currently includes a handpicked assortment of items with something for everyone, including: two high-design vibrators, a set of rainbow-colored plugs from Doc Johnson’s American POP! line, a stylish black unisex hat featuring the signature Doc Johnson retro cursive logo, and a pop-art inspired shirt (featuring our comic-book-style heroine with a tear in her eye and a speech bubble that simply states: “My Batteries Died!”). The result is something that is intentionally disruptive and eye catching.
Is this machine meant to actually sell products or is its purpose to create awareness for the Doc Johnson brand? Erica Braverman: The Pop Up Pleasure Machine is really not about the sale of individual products, but is more so a unique and interesting way to connect with a new audience— while also sparking conversation and generating excitement for pleasure products in general. We also don’t see this as solely a B2C campaign. We recognise the need for building a stronger emotional and personal connection with our audiences, not only to build brand awareness and connect with the end consumer, but also to drive demand and boost sales for our distributors and retail partners.
We also consider our focus on the consumer to be a win-win for everyone– if we didn’t keep the end consumer in mind, they’d have no reason to use our distributor and retail partners over another, which would lead to commoditisation. People can tell when you’re looking at them as nothing more than a cash cow; and we might not have $1 million to drop on a marketing campaign, but our brand would be diminishing in value if we didn’t keep our focus on the human element.
Why did you start contemplating the possibility of sex toy vending machines? What was the spark that brought the „Pop Up Pleasure Machine“ to life? Erica Braverman: 2017 has been one of our biggest years for multi-category growth– our efforts in marketing energised the brand and brought the confidence for us to go ahead and be bolder. This year is at a different level in terms of where we hope to take the brand and where our activations are going. We started with digital: social media marketing, PR, reaching influencers, things like that. And then we said, all right. It’s time to take the next step and do an experiential campaign.
When you think about 2017 being a year of putting more eyeballs on the brand and guest acquisition, I’m actually really excited about our ability in a really relevant, nimble way to put millions of eyeballs on the brand. Only by pushing the boundaries will we know how far we can go.
How did people respond to the machine when you set it up? Erica Braverman: The campaign has only recently started rolling out; but even at our first launch event, we were blown away by the response, and we gained some valuable insights as well. I think there’s still a lingering perception in our industry that mainstream crowds will be shocked or put off by the sight of some of our more realistic products—but at the launch event, we saw crowds of people lining up, back to back all night, with lines out the door, to take photos inside our 200-dildo photo booth.
That definitely makes a statement about how far we’ve come in terms of shifting consumer attitudes towards sex toys, with younger people leading the charge, and this lends even more optimism towards our recent forays into more mainstream-oriented marketing. We really couldn’t be more excited about the early responses we’ve seen to the Pop Up Pleasure Machine, and can’t wait for more people to experience it in their own cities.
How does this fit into Doc Johnson’s marketing? How important is it to get creative to reach the public? Erica Braverman: The marketing mix is certainly changing, and Doc Johnson isn’t afraid to evolve. This campaign was the first time we have done anything like this, and the investment we’ve made is still comparatively lower when you look at traditional events campaigns. But our aim was not to create a traditional events campaign—we wanted to create an experience that was out of the ordinary. With our vibrator-dispensing vending machine, we know people will tend to be naturally be more engaged than they would be with a standard communication. Our model is focussed on making connections to the target consumer in the most holistic way. And, within that, we’re going to take some things that we know work. And we’re going to take some things that we’re still trying out. We’ll take our learnings from our activity this year, and will be using social in a different and more dynamic way. You’ll see lots of engaging experience-led ideas around the Doc Johnson which will dominate for a good quarter.
The more things become digital, the more important the personal element becomes, and the more some kind of brand experience, some sort of living embodiment of brand values is important – for us and any other brand.
How do you choose where to set up the machine? Where will the machine go next? Will we also see it in Europe? Erica Braverman: For the Pop Up Pleasure Machine Tour, Doc Johnson chose on-trend, authentic venues that were culturally relevant to its target audience. Popping up in these places would create an element of surprise and delight, that would then carry down to both the brand and the product. We also aimed for venues with a local flair and fan base, rather than going for chains.
We can’t reveal what we have in store for our next activations yet, but I think everyone will be very excited when they see what we have in the works in the next few months. Right now, the tour is currently limited to the United States. But maybe in the next year or so, we’ll take the tour international.
Many ways of advertising and creating awareness have not been available for erotic products in the past. For example, Facebook didn’t allow erotic content on their platform. Are you seeing a change in this regard? Is it getting easier for you to connect with potential customers? Thao Dipolito: Although certain platforms may have some restrictions we have found that there are ways we can structure successful social promotions while respecting the policies and rules of these platforms. Doc Johnson highly values digital marketing and places a great deal of importance on social media. From my previous experience with building social media for brands such as Playboy TV and Playboy Radio, I learned you just have to be strategic on how you schedule and structure your posts especially if that may be perceived as adult content. Once we figured that out we were able to grow the Facebook pages from 2,000 new followers a week to 75,000 followers a week each organically. Growing social media for Doc Johnson is exciting because allows me to think outside the box.
The “Pop Up Pleasure Machine“ campaign is designed to reach millennials in particular. What is needed to arouse the interest of this target audience? Erica Braverman: Our target consumer with this campaign is really an individual who has what we say is the ‘millennial mindset’—people who share the value of connection and who want things delivered in refreshing ways.
People with a millennial mindset tend to have a great interest in temporary experiences with a lasting impression—and this has led to great success with companies like Airbnb, as well as a huge response from millennials with things like pop-up shops.
In any industry, you’ve got to get the next generation’s participation to drive long-term growth. With the Pop Up Pleasure Machine, we want to remain true to the already established Doc Johnson brand, but put a fresh, modern spin on it.