Thought Leadership

A masterclass in building a satisfying side hustle

Far from being ’side-tracked by the side-hustle’ the Aura story underlines the way in which a side-hustle can provide creative fuel for a progressive agency

Georgie Moreton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


Women’s sexuality can be used to sell everything except their own pleasure. This is the clarity and truth which underpins the sexual wellness brand Aura. Aura’s mission is to empower everyone to love themselves and others with confidence and respect. 5% of all of Aura’s profits are donated to charities that fight to support survivors of sexual and domestic crimes and to prevent them.

The brand is on a mission to remove the taboos around pleasure and self-love so that everyone can feel comfortable being themselves. In a lively and honest panel discussion Rachel Eban, Planner at Saatchi & Saatchi and Juliet Cornick, Account Director at Saatchi & Saatchi spoke with Nicola Kemp, Editorial Director at Creativebrief about the sexual wellness startup brand they were instrumental in building.

Far from being ’side-tracked by the side-hustle’ the Aura story underlines the way in which a side-hustle, far from being a distraction, can in fact be creative fuel for a progressive agency.

Side-hustle stigma

Cast your mind back to the industry conversation surrounding ‘side hustles’ prior to the pandemic; when some industry leaders expressed concern that industry talent could effectively be sidetracked by their side hustles. Yet as the Aura story shows they can in fact be a progressive agency’s creative fuel. 

Far from being threatened by Eban’s creative pursuit Saatchi & Saatchi played a key role as agency partner. However, Eban expressed fears about how Aura would be perceived and said she felt as though she had to keep her ‘side-hustle’ under wraps for fear that co-workers would think she wasn’t focused on her role. It wasn’t until one day she was inspired to email her CEO asking for help with a pro-bono campaign that she became more open as she was excited that the work she was doing could lead to both awards and industry change.

Eban says that “while your day-to-day team might be worried about your time, senior leadership can have more of a birds-eye view where they look for creative people who enjoy creativity in their own lives who can bring exciting ideas to work.” 

For Eban, it was within conversations with senior leaders that she was able to find support. At Saatchi & Saatchi, employees are encouraged to talk about their side-hustles regularly as it is believed that they help teach valuable business skills leading to greater client understanding. Now, agencies have been forced to become more accepting of the side-hustle as during lockdown people had more time to invest into their own passion projects. Accepting employees' interests outside of work and supporting them feeds into a culture of creativity.

The industry has reached an interesting point as we ease out of the pandemic and there are still questions marks surrounding what the future of work will look like. The creative industries can be intense, productivity can be demanding and lots of client/agency work relies on chemistry that can be hard to replicate over zoom. Cornick says that agencies have grown adaptable because of this, attempting to set boundaries and support employees to take time out. For those that want to commit time to a ‘side-hustle’ there are ways it can be done particularly now. It’s a balancing act, “the key is setting boundaries, but people like Rachel show that it can be done.” says Cornick.

Lockdown saw a spike in the sales of vibrators and lubricants, we had to jump on that boat or we were just going to miss it

Rachel Eban, Planner at Saatchi & Saatchi

An opportune moment

The pandemic has impacted every part of our lives from the ways we work to the ways we shop. The Aura brand was long in the works pre-lockdown but changing shopping habits sparked the brand into action. “Lockdown saw a spike in the sales of vibrators and lubricants, we had to jump on that boat or we were just going to miss it,” says Eban. “The demand for sexual wellness shot up as people were stuck inside, in some cases separated from their partners or maybe even just bored!”. She also noted that people’s views toward masturbation were changing, not necessarily society-wide but amongst those already engaged. External factors and changing behaviours alongside existing preparation made it the perfect time to launch Aura. 

With Aura, Eban set out to break taboos around sexual health and champion women’s pleasure. The industry still faces some social stigma and faces regulation challenges. She mentions the fact that often women’s masturbation is associated with self-care and whilst this is beneficial in some ways, Aura as a brand aims to focus on pleasure to empower women who most of the time masturbate for the same reasons as men. 

Pleasure in advertising

Beyond perception, the regulatory challenges that the sexual wellness industry faces can be a struggle for brands. “Every media buy feels like a roulette,” says Eban “it’s not even that it’s a risk or a gamble, it feels like betting on black; it’s 50/50 whether anything is going to get through.” She references Love Honey’s post-watershed TV ad campaign which is a safe space to advertise for those with the budget. For other, smaller brands social media is the logical starting point but the rules each platform has in place make it difficult. Rules such as “you cannot advertise sex products for pleasure only health”, mean that it’s hard to market any adult products outside of condoms. Eban says that the rules, while puritan, somewhat make sense “but it’s in their application where the biggest issues are.” Once an ad is made, has gone through approvals and has managed to stay up, an algorithm is then in charge of seeing if it breaks any rules. Often this algorithm penalises female products where products like viagra make it through. With all the regulations in place, it makes it near impossible for brands like Aura to run ads on social media.

Without the budget for TV and with challenges on social media, Aura has had to shift its focus toward search ads, CRM, giveaways and brand partnerships. Amazon advertising has been great for the brand but also poses risks; for small businesses, Amazon is essential for growth but can take away a lot of control. Another place Aura looked was to podcast sponsorships as the creator controls the space, there’s the ability to partner with relevant, sex-positive podcasts but yet, it’s hard to measure value. The most rewarding form of advertising is always word-of-mouth and Eban has found Aura customers to be extremely loyal, willing to give glowing recommendations to friends that lead to sales. 

Refining representation 

The advertising industry seems also hesitant to promote women’s products and sexual wellness. “We’ve come a long way. Wombstories and Viva La Vulva are some great examples but it still feels like it’s pretty inconsistent and too often political,” says Cornick. She goes on to say that whilst there is more regulation around gender stereotyping, this is only in extremes and we are left with a ‘messy middle’ where misrepresentation is rife. “Only 7% of women feel the representation of women in advertising has become more positive since 2015,” explains Cornick. The industry needs to work to a place where women’s bodies are represented honestly in advertising. Women’s bodies have long been glamorized or romanticised to sell products when in actuality most women don’t want a positive or negative depiction but an honest one.

The ‘No Pleasure’ campaign was born out of the idea that women’s sexuality can be used to sell anything but their own pleasure. By removing the pleasure from the ads, the creative team wanted to see if they would then be able to advertise on social media and beyond. “We want to highlight the absurdity of these rules and the casual sexism that underpins them,” says Cornick. 

Don’t be afraid to come to your agency with an angle. I sold in Aura by talking about the social regulations and thinking of creative ways to draw attention to them and break them down. It wasn’t just one business, it was to open up the wider sector

Rachel Eban, Planner at Saatchi & Saatchi

Advertising reflects the society we live in and has the power to drive change. While we are witnessing progress, evidenced by advertising’s ‘red wave’, Eban credits this progression to society and believes the industry is reflecting current societal progression rather than pushing change forward. Lockdown has stifled the industry's ability to do even this in some cases as it’s been more difficult to gain insight. In order to portray women accurately and honestly, creatives need to research, listen and look to real people to inform projects.

For those thinking about pursuing side-hustles, Eban stresses the importance of having a great business partner or team to lean on and take away some of the burdens. She also champions getting your agency involved, saying, “don’t be afraid to come to your agency with an angle. I sold in Aura by talking about the social regulations and thinking of creative ways to draw attention to them and break them down. It wasn’t just one business, it was to open up the wider sector.”

In a time where there are increasing pressures on employees, having a side-hustle is great for those with a passion project but shouldn’t be something to chase after or add to the never-ending list of tasks. Passion is the key ingredient and finding the team to help elevate a project to the next level. Eban says that for a successful side-hustle “You have to be unashamed, there’s no room for embarrassment; be unafraid to fail.”

It’s all about the brief, the unique insight and the willingness to take a risk. With the right people involved, a side-hustle has the ability to become a fully-fledged creative outlet.

To watch the full session: click here