Note: This story originally published on TheBlot.com on April 24, 2015.
Remember the scene from “National Lampoon’s Animal House” when Otter (Tim Matheson) meets his nemesis Dean Wormer’s wife in the produce section of a grocery store? “My cucumber. It’s bigger,” he says as he happens upon her.
We all know Otter’s not really talking about the size of the phallic-like gourd he’s holding — the ladies’ man is using a double entendre to proposition Mrs. Wormer. It’s funny stuff, for sure, but it’s not the first — nor the last — time fruits and vegetables were used to reference genitalia. Such healthy fare has also been used for something much, much naughtier.
Throughout history, and maybe still even today, people have used fruits and vegetables to masturbate. In fact, one of the earliest natural vibrators supposedly came from Egyptian sexpot Cleopatra, who reportedly had her servants fill a hollow gourd with angry bees (are there any other kind, really?) and then used the buzzing device to pleasure herself.
Well, Hustler Hollywood has had enough. The retail arm of Larry Flynt’s porn magazine Hustler wants to put an end to vegetable abuse — while driving people to buy its sex toys — via a funny political-esque marketing campaign that stars Phil Maholin as an advocate for the vegetables. I’ll let the campaign’s website share its mission:
“Every day, cucumbers, zucchinis and carrots are being inserted into orifices where they don’t belong. It doesn’t stop there either — we’re talking broccoli, radishes and even artichokes. These nutritional foods that are born from the sweet soil of our earth are not meant for whatever you may or may not be doing in the privacy (hopefully) of your home. … How can you Stop Vegetable Abuse? Well that’s easy. Shop Hustler Hollywood.”
In addition to the billboards and hashtag #StopVegetableAbuse, there are also three videos. What might come as a surprise, especially knowing Hustler, is that the whole campaign is SFW to reach the mainstream masses. It’s pretty funny, especially how it parodies political ads with a sense of humor, which, I think, many people forget to have these days as just about everything seems to offend or anger just about everyone.
For example, while snooping the hashtag, I found one group of “ecosexuals” that was outraged by the campaign:
— Annie Sprinkle (@AnnieSprinkle) April 2, 2015
Then there was this tweet from Save the Cucumbers, a group that claims to have been around since 2006 that, like Hustler Hollywood, promotes sex toys:
— Save The Cucumbers (@SaveTheCucumber) April 8, 2015
TheBlot Magazine spoke to Allison Johnston, marketing manager for Hustler Hollywood, about the ecosexuals, Phil Maholin and, of course, the company’s growing concerns about vegetable abuse. I mean, would you get a look at these stats:
I love how the campaign parodies politics and stays SFW. How did it come about?
Allison Johnston: It really all started with a billboard concept. It was just a cucumber (real) under the phrase “Stop Vegetable Abuse. Shop Hustler.” Mr. Flynt loved the billboard concept, so we decided to really blow it out and make it a full-on campaign incorporating store windows, guerrilla marketing, digital and, of course, the videos. The real political angle didn’t actually come about until we started brainstorming video concepts. From there, Phil Maholin was born!
So is Phil Maholin a real person? What’s his background?
We’ll leave this a mystery for now …
How has the reaction to the campaign been? And how are you measuring that reaction?
The reaction has been great. People really seem to be getting it and getting on board. We, of course, look at the social media presence of #StopVegetableAbuse to see how it’s spreading to measure the reaction. We also get reporting from from our store teams to see what, if any, feedback they are receiving on the store level. Thankfully, for this campaign, they are hearing a lot of people coming in who have seen a billboard in their market or saw it online and loved it.
It must be — pun only sort of intended — hard for an operation such as Hustler to make ads that get seen by the mainstream.
Hustler Hollywood has always kept marketing a little between PG-13 and R, never crossing any lines, in our opinion. We are truly a lifestyle brand and aim for the brand to be “acceptable” in the mainstream. But no matter how innocent our marketing and creative can be, we still get completely shut down in our more conservative markets, of course. No doubt that’s because of our name — we have a pretty big target on our backs. We won’t stop challenging the naysayers and will continue to place ourselves in front of a mainstream audience. Larry Flynt is our founder — we can handle adversity.
We love the reaction we’ve received from this “witty” approach to marketing and plan to continue to do this and solidify our position in mainstream.
I saw that an “ecosexual community” “took issue” with your campaign because they “promote making love with veggies.” What do you or Phil have to say to them?
To quote Phil Maholin, “Don’t put carrots in your butt.” That pretty much sums it up.
Similarly, Save the Cucumbers has been wanting consumers to not use veggies as sex toys since 2006, and it’s even tweeted to your hashtag. Were you aware of this community before? Maybe Phil has found his running mate?
Ah, yes, we saw that. I was completely unaware of Save the Cucumbers until they tweeted and tagged us. After we had our first billboard up in Fort Lauderdale, we searched the #StopVegetableAbuse to see what kind of traction we were getting and did find that a lovely store in the Dallas area, Sara’s Secret, had done a very similar campaign a couple years back. Our campaign was already in motion so [we] thought “great minds …” But I never saw anything from Save The Cucumbers until that tweet. But, hey, we are excited to have a partner in the fight against vegetable abuse!
Have you personally ever put a vegetable in harm’s way?
No comment. [laughs]
What’s your favorite toy in Hustler Hollywood? Why?
I have two favorites! I’m really into the Lelo’s Ina 2 right now. It’s super-powerful and has internal and external stimulation, so you’re covered! I also love the Vesper Crave. It’s a really lovely necklace that is also a vibrator — you know, for the girl on the go!
How did you get started with Hustler Hollywood?
They actually found me and recruited me! I’ve always wondered what it was about my resume that said, “Oh, she’d be great for us.” I had no experience in the adult industry prior to this, which I think has helped me be successful. I think outside of the “adult” box and can connect with our mainstream, target consumer.
And finally, what’s the best part of your job?
The free product is the obvious answer, but it’s really our team. From my colleagues at [the] corporate office to the teams at all the stores, I get to work with some truly amazing people!
Nikki M. Mascali is the editor of TheBlot Magazine.