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Monday, February 27, 2006

Sex-toy store's pitch on buses creates bad vibe

Santa Clara County has the cleanest public transportation in the Bay Area -- at least judging by the ads it allows on its buses.
Sex-toy store Good Vibrations found that out the hard way, when the Valley Transportation Authority yanked the company's ads off buses after some riders complained. No such complaints about the promotions have arisen in Alameda, Contra Costa or San Francisco counties -- which, through Valentine's Day, are displaying ads even racier than the ones the VTA couldn't tolerate.
``We certainly haven't gotten any complaints,'' said Clarence Johnson, spokesman for the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District. ``I'm not sure if it's because we're more in the den of iniquity than you guys or what, but so far, nothing.''
It all started around the holiday season, when Good Vibrations -- the Bay Area company whose sex gadgets would make many an American embarrassed or just extremely confused -- took its campaign to the streets for the first time.
By plastering its ads on buses, the sensuality seller was trying to draw in more of a mainstream clientele for its erotic lotions, toys and whatnots.
They settled on a two-part campaign to promote their Web site and three Bay Area stores.
The first ad shows a conservatively dressed woman next to the slogan: ``Shop Good Vibrations, because good things come in our packages.''
Too risque for the VTA.
It pulled that ad, so imagine what it would have done if its ad contractor, Viacom, had put up the second, more provocative one, which has been running in the other counties without causing a single gripe.
It says: ``Love Lab, the Science of Pleasure,'' accompanied by a picture of a vial of oil and a disassembled vibrator, the Hitachi Magic Wand Massager.
Kevin Kurimoto, a spokesman for VTA, said the first ad ran inside 70 buses and on the backs of 57.
And within a week, the complaints came rolling in, some from the drivers and some from the public.
``The ad itself was G-rated,'' Kurimoto acknowledged, but he felt the company was directing people to its Web site, ``and some of the products they sell would be considered pornographic.''
Kurimoto also said Viacom didn't hold up its part of the contract.
The company is ``supposed to run any ads that may be controversial past us,'' he said. ``In this case, they did not.''
VTA ordered the ads off the buses; all were gone by the end of the year. And the second set of ads, set to run on VTA buses through Valentine's day, were not installed.
Steve Shinn, spokesman for Viacom -- which became CBS Outdoor this month -- said his company found nothing off-color in the ads, so it didn't think to seek approval from VTA. ``We felt they were not obscene or against community standards,'' he said.
Shinn noted that VTA also ordered down the bus ads for the 2004 movie comedy ``White Chicks,'' while no such problems came up in other counties.
Kurimoto won't exactly say that this region is more prudish than its neighbors, just that ``we represent the county. We do take any concerns or complaints from the public on these types of issues seriously.''
Maggie Lynch, spokeswoman for San Francisco's Muni, says her agency sees it more as a matter of free speech -- unless the ads are deeply offensive, and she thinks Good Vibrations' are not.
``We haven't had any complaints,'' she said. ``Have you seen them? They're fairly benign.''
A random sampling of riders waiting for a bus in downtown San Jose this week felt pretty much the same way.
``Naah, it's not offensive,'' said Todd Lucero, 39, of San Jose, as he was counting his change for the bus. ``She's fully dressed.''
Pat Simmons, 59, said the ad that VTA pulled was tame and fine for buses. ``I don't think it belongs in schools or in church bulletins,'' but if someone doesn't like the business ``you don't need to go into the store.''
``We do not have an accurate pulse as to whether Santa Clara County is more or less conservative than other areas in general,'' Karin Tobiason, spokeswoman for the store, wrote in an e-mail. But after the complaints from VTA, we've ``opted to re-approach the community'' in a different way.
So here's a warning:
Good Vibrations ads will be coming soon from a radio near you.

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