Mayor Menino hasn’t been shy about taking on private companies over their public conduct. First it was Nike and its “Dope” and “Get High” t-shirts; then it was Chick-fil-A over its position on gay marriage. This week, it was about vibrators. Trojan, a company best known for condoms, is promoting a line of sex toys, using a guerrilla marketing campaign that involves handing them out on public streets. A giveaway in New York caused a traffic jam in the Flatiron District. Now, marketers are looking into Boston locations, and recently asked about City Hall Plaza. This prompted a Menino aide to issue a sharply worded letter, warning that “many families and children” traverse the plaza.
In this case, unlike with Chick-fil-A, Menino immediately acknowledged the constraints on his power; the letter to Trojan’s marketers notes that City Hall has no legal authority to deny the request. To give away a legal product in an open public space — something that happens regularly in front of City Hall — a company merely needs a permit, which comes with a small fee. The city can’t require, for instance, that the giveaway be at night.
Politically, the mayor is wise to express his disapproval of a promotion that makes some people squeamish. Yet, after that, ignoring it may be the best way to discourage similar stunts in the future. The news stories that have resulted from the City Hall letter, filled as they are with irresistible puns, only give Trojan more of the publicity it’s seeking.