No National Billboard Ads for Adult Toy Retailers

Michael Hayes
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Sex sells, but it doesn’t sell itself. At least that’s the attitude at adult toy retailer Surprise Parties, which has encountered stiff resistance while trying to get a national billboard campaign off the ground.

While more than a few adult companies in places like Kansas have felt the wrath of government regulators restricting the size, location and content of their billboards, Surprise Parties, which sells adult toys at female-only, Tupperware-style parties, found that its biggest hurdle hasn’t been state legislators, but the major billboard companies themselves.

Jeff Haynie, the ad-man tasked with buying billboard space for the company, received his first no from Lamar Advertising, the third-largest billboard company in the nation.

While no is a common word in the ad game, Haynie confessed that he was rather surprised at the Baton Rouge-based company’s decision, which rejected the ad because it was “too risqué.”

One of Lamar’s larger clients is the Hooters restaurant chain.

The ad in question depicts seven of the company’s managers — women who host the toy parties — dressed in pink, save for Sue Rhea, president of the company, who is dressed in white. The women are displayed against a background of rose petals; a “gift bag” of unidentifiable containers sits opposite the women. The ad’s copy reads: “Stop Faking it!”

According to Haynie, a sales rep for Lamar found the copy to be objectionable.

Haynie next tried Viacom Outdoors, whose parent company owns MTV. Initially, he met with some success, which didn’t surprise Haynie. MTV produces racy shows like “The Real World,” which is advertised — skin and all — on Nashville area billboards.

But shortly after signing a $20,000 contract for 20 billboards in Nashville, Haynie got a call from the company saying that the deal was off. He got a similar response from The Tennessean, when he tried to place a banner ad on the daily newspaper’s website.

“Too controversial,” Haynie explained.

According to Donna Wittrig, vice president of Surprise Parties, mainstream advertising is essential for the growth of their company because it, along with its customers, view the retail experience as distinct from walking into a sex shop.

In other words, the company sells itself as an educational, rather than erotic, experience.

“I don’t see any chicken wings on a Hooters billboard,” Wittrig said. “And we’re not selling breast augmentation. I mean, come on, what are we, Neanderthals?”

While Wittrig expressed outrage at what she views as hypocrisy, Haynie, who reports that he’s in negotiations to finalize a deal with yet another billboard company, wasn’t quite so poetic.

“It’s bullshit — the hypocrisy of it all,” Haynie said.