I also spoke to graphic designers for their professional opinions on Hims’s messaging. “From a male perspective, it’s kind of ridiculous,” New York-based Mirko Ilić, who recently published Head to Toe: The Nude in Graphic Design (with fellow designer and educator Steven Heller), told me by phone. “If you’re male, it’s painful to look. It’s shock value. What has that to do with erectile dysfunction?” Despite his design background, Ilić said it took him a while to even understand the advertisements.
A prickly cactus is indeed a strange choice. Sure, the desert plant has become popular among millennials who don’t want to spend a lot of time watering and maintaining…anything. But as a symbol, it still conveys pain, not pleasure.
The campaign puts additional pressure on men, Ilić noted. If they weren’t already worrying about their sexual performance, they will as soon as they see one of the advertisements. However, he conceded, the Hims ads are successfully spreading conversation. They’ve garnered chatter in major publications (GQ
, the New York Times
), at parties, and on social media. One female Instagram user recently posted
a picture of her own, very literally wilting cactus, and captioned the image: “I think it needs @hims [unhappy face emoji].”
Yet provoking discussion doesn’t always equate to higher sales, in Ilić’s opinion. “If I autograph a really large penis and put it in the subway,” said Ilić, “advertising for new detergent or Wall Street Journal, or whatever, people will talk about that photography, but not necessarily about what that photography is promoting or selling.” Heller offers a different opinion: “The fact that they attract attention—positive or negative—says they are doing their job,” he said.