Are Advertisers Biased Against Women's Sex Drive?


Semprae manufacturers tested almost 300 women in two placebo-controlled clinical trials, and the results from the first trial, which were published in the Sept. 2003 issue of the Journal of Sex and Marital States, showed it was 70 percent effective. In 2006, Business Week reported the product was the leading seller in women's intimacy products.

Yet, advertisers scream "taboo" when it comes to showing it or talking about it on TV, radio or the internet. Braun Scherl said her company has approached more than 100 network and TV stations, only to be rejected by 95 percent of them.

"What they tell us is that they don't 'do' this category," she said. "I think there's some concern that they'll get pushback from consumers, that there will be some sort of uproar."

Jaensch added that they have even tried working with advertisers to completely alter Zestra's commercials to make them less sensitive.

"What we thought they wanted us to do is take out any word related to 'sex,' so we actually went back and took out any word, 'sex,' 'sexual,' 'sexuality' and 'arousal,'" she said. "We took the same ad back without that language and they still told us they were not comfortable airing the ad."

Zestra Creates a Media Buzz Without Their Ads

And it's not just the TV industry that is putting on the brakes. Popular medical website WebMD agreed to host Zestra's ad, then changed their minds.

In a statement to "Nightline," WebMD said: ""WebMD maintains a set of advertising polices that it applies to products advertised on its sites."

"In December 2009, we informed Zestra's agency that we would accept Zestra advertising on our sites, but the advertising copy supplied by the agency would need to be modified to comply with our advertising policies."

"WebMD never received a response from Zestra or its agency since we sent that communication."

Social media giant Facebook also scrubbed Zestra's ads. Braun Scherl sent "Nightline" an email that outlined the alert Facebook had sent to their account, saying their ads had been "disapproved" and flagged for "containing or promoting adult content."

"We posted a Facebook ad that said 'Try Zestra Arousal Oils for Free,' Braun Scherl explained. "Within a couple of weeks, we got a notification from Facebook that they were taking our ad down because they didn't cover things in this category and they had very specific guidelines."

This hasn't stopped Zestra from gaining media coverage in a different way. Several talk shows targeting female audiences, including "The View," "Rachel Ray," and "The Tyra Banks Show," have had discussions on-air about the product.

"It seems so crazy to me that we can have an advertisement about a four-hour erection ... and we can't talk about women's sexual arousal," Berman said. "It is, to me, a sign of how close to the dark ages we still are."

Brian Steinberg, TV critic for Advertising Age, agreed that there's a double standard when it comes to commercials about sexual dysfunction and says "it's a bit medieval."

Steinberg said he was surprised to see so much resistance to selling ad space to Zestra, especially in a weak economy. He admitted that broadcasters tend to handle small companies differently than bigger ones, and ultimately try to steer clear of offending consumers.

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