Good Vibes On the Airwaves

Aside from our voyage out onto the Web, we at Good Vibes have been pretty low-tech over the years, at least as far as promoting ourselves and our products goes. Most of our communication with the public has been decidedly old-fashioned — we send speakers to public events to extol sex toys, good sexual communication, and sex-positive ideals, and we run ads in various print media, from Utne Reader to The New York Times Review of Books, from Libido to the late, great On Our Backs. In fact, some of our most amusing run-ins with non-San Franciscans have been in the context of trying to place our tasteful ads in national publications — in the 1980s our ads were rejected by both Ms. magazine (before they went ad-free) and Playboy. Huh? (Such are the thrills, chills, and wacky cultural vicissitudes of our kinder and gentler approach to sex.)

Now, though, we’re about to join the 20th century and start advertising in broadcast media. Earlier this summer we decided to run a commercial with KOFY, a Bay Area station with extensive Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Pride March coverage. Things didn’t work out to make and run that commercial, but we later arranged to work with the KOFY crew to tape our first-ever TV spot. (Actually we’ve been on TV and radio plenty of times as guests on talk shows — we’re in all the right rolodexes — and segments have run on our stores, but this is the first time we’ve used TV specifically for advertising.)

Thus it came to pass that last week, at a truly unholy hour of the morning, a crew of us arrived at our Berkeley store to make the commercial. For once, I was not typecast — I donned a wig and pink lipstick and did my best to represent a nervous suburbanite visiting Good Vibes for the very first time. In fact I’ve seen a lot of these folks in my seven years here, and while we want to market our products and services to all kinds of people, the shy ones can definitely use a little more urging. So I just tried to draw on my experience of the variously giggly, frightened, and hesitant customers who’ve come my way. Naturally one of my colleagues played the part of a reassuring SESA (our in-house title which stands for “sex educator and sales associate”), a role I and all my co-workers also know well. So in spite of the fact that the exchange was scripted and dramatized, it all felt pretty familiar — and very true to one significant part of the Good Vibrations experience. Script excerpt: “You go in!” “No, you go first!”

Now our crackerjack marketing and advertising pro, Mindi Levine, has entered negotiations with Bay Cable to represent our commercial and secure it a few places on the air. So far shows on four cable networks — Lifetime, USA Network, MTV, and F/X — have been selected for their target audiences. We’re looking at shows with a high female viewership to begin with, as befits our “friendly, feminist and fun” profile. Besides, those gals need to be sold products that are more inspiring (and sex-positive!) than scented douches and other staples of “feminine hygiene.” Kotex may not understand, but we do!

So if you’re a Bay Arean or come visiting, look for us on the airwaves hopefully by the holiday season this year; Mindi plans to time our commercial’s unveiling with a soon-to-be-inaugurated radio campaign. We’re starting with local markets; although a mail order sex business has tv commercials already on the air, they only play on smaller-town stations. We’ll be the first toy company to run TV ads in a major urban market.

What’s next? Toy kiosks on the moon? Well, we’re trying to take our time planning future growth; at our annual meeting last month we discussed which expansion scenarios we felt most comfortable with (as a worker-owned business, we all need to be rowing pretty much the same boat when it comes to major plans). The jury’s still out on some topics like franchising, but Web denizens will be glad to hear that we anticipate an even stronger presence in cyberspace. Playboy just called our website one of the 20 best sex-related places to visit on the ‘Net, an honor we aim to ongoingly deserve.

In the meantime, if you can tear yourself away from your keyboard, keep one eye on the tv and look for those nervous suburban ladies. Especially if you’ve seen me perform live or in Carol Queen’s Great Vibrations, marvel at what a difference a frosted wig makes.

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Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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