Influencers say a high-end sex toy company based in Melbourne has been hiring them to create sponsored content for its products — but then delaying or ghosting them when it’s time to pay up.
Ooh! Companion touts itself as a company dedicated to "sexual empowerment" for women and sells vibrators that retail for hundreds of dollars on its website. But creators who have worked with the company on sponsored content deals told BuzzFeed News they have spent weeks or months chasing down payments from the brand, with some saying they were only paid after threatening legal action. Some have still never been paid in full.
They also accused the company of using strange evasion tactics to delay compensating them, including having them speak to several different “employees,” who the influencers believe are both real and fake.
Their suspicions were backed up by two former employees at the company. One of whom, who wished to remain anonymous, claimed to BuzzFeed News that the company’s founder, a man named Ethan Ban, regularly communicated with influencers by pretending to be fake employees, in an attempt to avoid their complaints. BuzzFeed News verified names of several real employees among names used in dozens of emails and DMs sent from Ooh! Companion to influencers in this story.
BuzzFeed News has made multiple attempts to reach Ban but did not hear back.
In June, Carly Compton, an Orange County-based fitness and body positivity microinfluencer, publicly aired her frustrations about working with Ooh! Companion on her Instagram.
"DO NOT WORK WITH THEM IR BUY FROM THEM!!!" she captioned her IGTV, which detailed the arduous path she said she took to get the $800 the company had allegedly agreed to pay her back in February.
Compton, 27, recounted to BuzzFeed News the deal she made with Ooh! earlier in the year for a "static post," or a one-time type of sponcon.
"[Ooh!] had seen some pretty big influencers who worked with them, and I was like, Great, it seems real. I had seen that other influencers had worked with them! None of which had posted anything negative about their experience at that time. That's before things took a turn," Compton said.
All of the correspondences and arrangements were over email, which BuzzFeed News reviewed, and Compton did not sign a formal contract. Former employees in charge of influencer relations at Ooh Companion! told BuzzFeed News that the company did present some influencers with legally binding contracts for deals, but implemented the contracts inconsistently.
One employee said she sent the contract to all influencers she had worked with, while the other said she would send one over “if the influencers requested it.”
On March 8, Compton posted the sponcon for three sex toys the company was selling as a bundle. (She has since deleted the post.) Typically, Compton said, it takes a month for companies she works with to process a payment, so she waited.
In April, Compton reached out to the Ooh! Companion rep she had initially corresponded with. She said she got an email response back saying that that person was no longer working with the company and to email a general management line. After sending several emails, she finally got a response from the general email address, asking her to send another invoice. After several more attempts to reach someone, she got an email from a new manager who identified himself as "Peter."
"He said he was taking over and he was working on it," Compton recalled. "I gave it another week ... and never heard anything. I emailed him about four times with no response, from [the] beginning of May to the end of May."
When Peter stopped responding, she then received an Instagram DM from the company’s public profile. The author of the message claimed to work at Ooh! Companion and said their name was Bella. The DM asked if Compton would be interested in doing a giveaway with the company.
"I said, 'I’m not interested. I’m still trying to get payment from the first post with you guys,’” Compton said. “She started to get frustrated with me because I kept asking."
Compton did eventually get paid via Paypal for her work — more than four months after she posted the content. She said “Bella” contacted her to arrange payment after she posted her IGTV blasting the experience. (A former employee confirmed that Bella was the name of a real employee, but claimed that since she’s left the company, Ban has continued to use her name to correspond with influencers.)
Other influencers had similar frustrating experiences working with Ooh! Companion. Abigail Rae Beckwith, a Chicago-based microinfluencer who advocates for mental health, told BuzzFeed News that like Compton, she was approached by the company for a static post for $400 in March. She did not sign a formal contract.
After she posted her ad on April 1, she made several attempts to reach someone at the company for payment.
"I then received an email a month after posting my content from someone in their business/financial department saying they messed up and could not pay me in full and would like to do a payment plan and could I please keep it out of the media," Beckwith said. "Again I didn’t hear anything back after responding agreeing to a payment plan."
Beckwith said two months after posting for Ooh! and sending them multiple messages, she sent them a final email threatening to "go to the media" and saying that she would be "seeking legal advice."
"I was paid within the next two hours," she said. Beckwith was finally compensated via PayPal on June 11 after posting her ad on April 1.
Manon Berryman, an influencer who has over 110,000 followers on Instagram, told BuzzFeed News she also spent weeks trying to chase down her payment from Ooh! Companion.
Berryman said she usually sends companies a contract and invoice for sponsorship deals. In May, she sent Ooh! Companion an email asking if they “should sign an agreement” for her work, but did not get a response.
"I haven't been paid in full, but it's not worth chasing them any longer," she said. Berryman said she was eventually paid only $180 of the $500 that she and the company initially agreed on.
Gabby Male, a 25-year-old fitness influencer with over 200,000 followers, had an Instagram sponsorship deal with the company that was much larger than others’. She said when Ooh! approached her in February, she and her management team secured a deal for $2,750 if she posted one sponcon and a few stories about the company’s products. Unlike others in this story, Male did sign a contract, which has been reviewed by BuzzFeed News.
“[The posts] performed really well so they wanted to work together for another three months for $3,500 a month for a post and a set of stories each month,” Male said.
“I was never paid for the first two months … I still have not been paid for any of the work I did.”
She estimates Ooh! owes her about $7,000 for her work.
“[My managers] have been told a million different things by different people from the company,” she said. “They are still trying and are exploring legal options. However, Ooh! has sort of dropped off the radar … We are struggling to get a response from anyone.”
Male said she feels her work and influence have been exploited.
“I do not want to let this go. That is a lot of money and work I did for them, and I feel used and disrespected,” she said.
Former employees told BuzzFeed News that they had just as frustrating an experience working for Ban and Ooh! Companion as the influencers did working with the company.
Kiara Furnell was 20 when she joined Ooh! Companion as one of its first employees in Melbourne. She managed the company’s social media while scouting women to help promote its products. Furnell told BuzzFeed News she was hired within a month after the company was founded in late 2020 and stayed about six months. During that time, she recalls six total employees who worked for Ban, and she claimed that Ban used his employees’ names to respond to inquiries and made up some names of people who didn’t work there.
“[Ban] still uses Bella’s email address and her name,” Furnell said, and alluded to a recent Instagram post an influencer made complaining about Ooh! Companion with a message that purported to be from Bella. “Bella had left [the company] when all of us left at the same time about three months ago.”
Another former employee, who also coordinated influencer relationships and who wished to remain anonymous, told BuzzFeed News that Ban “poses as women" over Instagram DMs to deal with complaining clients. They added another name he commonly used was "Gina."
Both the anonymous employee and Furnell claimed that “Peter” was another alias Ban had frequently used.
The anonymous employee cited a number of reasons for why they quit, but ultimately that their "anxiety was through the roof" in the short time they worked for Ban. They claimed they were "spending every day hassling him to get these girls paid."
Both this employee and Furnell said Ban handled all of the finances when it came time to pay creators for their promotional work.
“When it comes to payment, we would go to Ethan and he would tell us, ‘It’s been paid,’ so we just left it,” Furnell said. “We didn’t have any control of that.”
Compton and other influencers said they felt Ooh! targeted them as smaller influencers in the body positivity space so the company could be aligned with their public images.
"[Ban] definitely focuses on a specific type of person. A lot of influencers who had reached out to me are in the same realm as me — very body positive and focused on self-love," she said.
"They had an agreement when their post went live, and they never got paid. Some of the influencers have management teams that have been trying to get payments for months."
"It's important to me that no more women are being taken advantage of or tricked into working with them, and creating amazing content that was really vulnerable, talking about sex toys," Compton added.
The anonymous ex-employee believes Ban’s company profited from exploiting a specific community of mostly women on Instagram.
"The problem with it is the fact that Ethan is capitalizing under the guise of empowering women with sex toys. That was incredibly important with me and why I wanted to get involved with it," she said. "It's blatant disregard of people and content creators. It is an absolute mess and sham, and I just want people to not go near [Ooh! Companion]."