This billboard for a sex toy is actually a message about women's empowerment.

People tend to think of Canada as a progressive oasis and for good reason: quality health care, beautiful environmental landscapes and a general attitude of inclusion and tolerance are all very Canadian things.

Of course, nobody is perfect and it turns out that Canada has some fairly regressive attitudes when it comes to women talking about sex in public. But one company has countered that narrative and is making a huge splash with their new billboard that contains an unmistakable message of female empowerment.

“You can use sex to sell anything, except if it’s women’s pleasure,” said Stephanie Keating, marketing manager at WOW Tech Group, in an interview with AdWeek.


Keating’s company worked with PinkCherry and design firm The Garden to promote their new vibrator, brilliantly called the “Womanizer” with a line of marketing text that has made international headlines: “Scream your own name.”

Much like in the U.S., Canada doesn’t have any explicit laws against advertising like this. But Keating says the unspoken rules most often result in such advertising campaigns getting turned down by major vendors.

In fact, the company claims that they’ve already set a North American record by having the billboard in place for just three weeks.

It has also already been nominated as one of the year’s best new advertisment, based in large part to the organic reaction from industry professionals and casual observers alike.

It's a major victory, especially when you consider that just getting the billboard up in the first place was a mountain many thought couldn’t be scaled.

“When you are in the business of promoting women’s sexual pleasure and all the benefits that go with that, you’re used to being rejected,” Keating told AdWeek. “We approach every media buy with trepidation, as we never know if our investment is going to see the light of day. Regardless of the medium—traditional, digital, social, podcasting—our ads have been censored even when they contain no explicit or suggestive content.”

At the same time, sex toys of all stripes are often given incredible amounts of free publicity, so long as they are targeted at and for men.

In 2016, Chile's Economy Minister Luis Felipe Cespedes got into hot water when he gleefully posed with a female sex doll after controversial comments comparing his country's economy to women saying both needed to be "stimulated" in order to be activated.

Photo by George Cadenas/Getty Images)

But because of the incredibly positive attention, the billboard has received, they’re already planning to extend the billboard’s ad buy into 2020 and the company says there are looking at other large scale advertising platforms to expand the Womanizer’s reach.

“We have always seen the value in this brand,” The Garden co-founder Shari Walczak told AdWeek.

“This is a company that believes in the importance of sexual wellness and empowerment for women, and the value of developing and maintaining intimacy between partners.”

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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