nytimes.com – 2.8.2010
The feats of Casanova were formidable, especially when you consider that he was bereft of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the rest of the social media by which to pursue his conquests. Now, a campaign for a line of personal products seeks to make up for that.
The campaign, scheduled to get under way on Monday, is for the Wet brand of lubricants sold by Wet International, part of Trigg Laboratories. The campaign, timed to coincide with the coming of Valentine’s Day, is centered on a social application that lets computer users declare a friend, family member, paramour or special someone the “world’s greatest lover.”
The campaign, with a budget estimated at $100,000, is indicative of a more prominent presence in the mainstream for sex products like lubricants and condoms, which were once hidden behind the counters by druggists who required customers to ask for them in furtive whispers.
Ads for intimate products now appear in mass magazines like Cosmopolitan and People. Retailers promote them in circulars, like one this week for the Duane Reade drugstore chain in metropolitan New York that declares, “Enhance the pleasure of intimacy with our selection of personal products,” among them K-Y lubricants and Trojan condoms.
Personal products are even turning up in that most prosaic of media, the coupon inserts in Sunday newspapers. K-Y offered $7 worth of coupons in recent ads in inserts, which carried the headline “Happy Valentine’s Night.”
And Trojan, sold by Church & Dwight, offered coupons in ads in inserts on Sunday. “Save $5 on Valentine’s Day treats to satisfy every taste,” the headline read. An accompanying photograph showed a heart-shaped box of chocolates with condoms in place of candy.
The “World’s Greatest Lover” application is designed for Wet by Oddcast, a company in New York that specializes in what it calls user-personalized viral marketing — that is, ads that consumers are invited to share among themselves. Such ads are deemed to be more involving than traditional pitches that are delivered in top-down fashion.
For instance, for McDonald’s in Europe, Oddcast introduced a promotion for the movie “Avatar” in which a computer user was invited to “Avatarize yourself” and become a version of the Na’vi characters from the film.
And to help the E*Trade Financial Group promote the commercial the company ran during Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday, Oddcast brought out an application named BabyMail, which enables visitors to a Web site to send e-mail messages using voices that simulate baby talk.
Oddcast’s greatest hits include customized e-mail messages sponsored by CareerBuilder.com in early 2006, which were known as Monk-e-mail (pronounced “monkey mail”). Although the campaign that inspired the application is long over, Monk-e-mail lives on in a demonstration of the staying power of ads that consumers pass along voluntarily.
“We’re in the beginning stages of social media,” says Jennifer Martsolf, vice president for marketing at Trigg in Valencia, Calif. “We know it’s important to engage with our consumers.”
One reason is that “a lot of our demographic goes online,” she adds, for tasks that include “research about this product,” reading about it on Web sites and “learning about it from bloggers.”
The Wet brand started in the social media about a year and a half ago, Ms. Martsolf recalls, with a MySpace page that included large banner ads.
“People responded to it very well,” she says, so the company is “playing with Facebook and starting with Twitter.”
The goal is to encourage “a call to action,” Ms. Martsolf says, in the form of visits to the Wet brand’s Web site where consumers can learn more about the line; print coupons; request samples; sign up for e-mail newsletters, which are tailored to six sexual orientations or “prefer not to answer”; and order Wet products like lubricants, massage and bath oils, gels and shaving cream.
“We’re trying to reach a consumer who might not necessarily go into an adult bookstore,” Ms. Martsolf says, where Wet products were originally available for purchase.
In addition to being sold on Web sites, at nightclub events and at so-called adult home parties, she adds, Wet products are also stocked by retailers like CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens — “and we just got into Target.”
Education is part of the Wet mission, Ms. Martsolf says, especially telling consumers “sex is more fun if you use it.”
“We have a fun brand,” she adds, and its customers “skew a bit younger” than those for the principal rivals of Wet, which are K-Y, sold by a unit of Johnson & Johnson, and Astroglide, made by Biofilm. (Astroglide is on Facebook and Twitter, too, and K-Y is on Facebook.)
To play up the fun persona, Ms. Martsolf says, she began searching for “a company that would do a viral campaign” for Wet and all the examples she found on Google “were produced by Oddcast.”
Oddcast presented three ideas, she recalls, including one that evoked something she had been thinking about for years, based on the concept of how “you’d go to Spencer Gifts and get a ‘World’s Greatest Lover’ trophy.”
The Oddcast software creates a make-believe newscast in which a person is feted for his or her love-making prowess in a video clip and in text on a mock home page.
The home page is for the imaginary WETWN news network, and under “important breaking news” is the headline that the person chosen for the honor, identified by his or her given name, was “declared ‘World’s Greatest Lover.’”
A three-paragraph fake article follows in which the given name is included in four places. At one point, a panel of judges declares the person has “raised the art of love-making to new, unforeseen heights” and concludes, “We can’t think of a more worthy recipient of this honor.”
On the other side of the page is a report about a White House state dinner honoring the person at which President Obama commended “the World’s Greatest Lover’s tremendous dedication, hard work and ingenuity as an inspiration for all aspiring romantics.”
The video clips runs at the center of the home page. “And now for our top story,” a news anchor says. “The World’s Greatest Lover was announced today.” She introduces a clip of a man, identified as the head of the search committee, describing how the winner was chosen from “hundreds of nominees.”
Back comes the anchor, who says, “Our sources inform us that the winner, pictured here” — and at this point, the photograph supplied by the computer user pops up — “is celebrating behind closed doors at an undisclosed location.”
The anchor then introduces a judge, who appears on screen “live from Stockholm.” She recounts how the winner “scored an average 10 out of 10 on multiple events,” among them some ribald, even naughty achievements, and finishes with a deft raise of her eyebrows.
The anchor returns again with a final news item: “The World’s Greatest Lover has signed a sponsorship deal with Wet personal lubricants and will be traveling the world to demonstrate winning techniques and the benefits of a great personal lubricant.”
The application can be sent directly to its intended recipient or be posted to more than 50 social networking venues like Blogger, Facebook, Twitter and WordPress.
Oddcast wants to offer advertisers an alternative to a company that promises to “put your banner in front of 10 million people,” says Sandy Smallens, executive vice president at Oddcast.
And “Wet isn’t exactly able to take out commercials during reruns of ‘Full House,’ ” he adds.
The Oddcast staff members went “back and forth on the tone” of the application, Mr. Smallens says. “We were more conservative at first,” he adds, and eventually ended up with “a PG-13 presentation, at worst.”
Oddcast and Wet have set a goal of 250,000 “engagements” for the application, Mr. Smallens says, defined as instances of people interacting with it in various ways.
“Frankly, I think we’re going to over-deliver on that number,” he adds.
The application marks the debut of Oddcast’s own distribution of a campaign through measures that will include using Facebook and Twitter, reaching out to bloggers, promoting the application in the company’s newsletters and talking it up in chat forums.
A public relations agency in San Francisco, Larkin/Volpatt Communications, is teaming up with Oddcast to handle the public relations aspects of the distribution.
For example, Larkin/Volpatt will promote the application with editors at men’s and women’s magazines and with blogs about parenting written by the so-called mommy bloggers and daddy bloggers.
Wet will also publicize the application on the home page of stayswetlonger.com, Ms. Martsolf says, in its newsletters and with the distributors of its products.