Pleasure Products: High End, High Demand
In the pleasure products space, luxury is more than a status symbol among consumers. Highfalutin packaging and marketing helps establish a perception of increased value, but the real defining moment plays out behind closed doors.
“Marketing establishes the brand promises and guiding core values, as well as communicates those messages to consumers,” said Lorraine Byerley, vice president of marketing for Standard Innovation Corporation. “It’s important to note that if a premium product doesn’t live up to its promises, it fails in the marketplace; in other words, consumers make the ultimate decision whether products live up to their promises.”
U.K. designer brand Je Joue relies on sexual health awareness and education to market its brand.
“Having high quality products isn’t enough — marketing is vital when it comes to communicating our philosophy and developing brand awareness,” said Alicia Relles, Je Joue North American sales and marketing manager. “We’re lucky to work with an amazing network of sex positive retailers and sex educators. We support them with ongoing training, original campaigns and bespoke events as they are key to transmitting the values of Je Joue and reaching consumers on a more personal level. We also take the time to make sure we choose the right distribution strategy and the perfect positioning for our products for each market.”
Beyond advertising campaigns, in-store marketing also is essential for luxury products.
“From a B2B perspective it’s important for retailers to understand the theory behind selling luxury,” JOPEN Brand Manager Robin Stewart said. “You can’t simply hang these types of products from a slat wall and expect them to sell themselves. To fully take advantage of the monetary benefits of retailing luxury, JOPEN suggests paying close attention to store presentation. Creative, modern floor displays, placing luxury products in glass cases like fine jewelry, and having an informed sales staff is key.”
BMS Factory President Steve Bannister adds, “One of the biggest challenges is getting people to pick it up off the shelf and hold it in the first place. When a customer sees something for $20 sitting on another shelf, they may just decide to go with that without giving the superior product a second glance. Most luxury products are an experience and need to be held to truly appreciate what they are. Only by holding something can you really feel the difference in quality.”
With a refusal to be categorized, Jimmyjane founder Ethan Imboden says, “Though we produce some luxurious products, such as our LITTLE SOMETHING line of vibrators, I don’t consider Jimmyjane a luxury brand — we’re far too focused on the logical necessities of delivering an exceptional experience.”
Jimmyjane’s minimalistic approach also is reflected in its marketing.
“The role of marketing for a luxury product or brand is to cause your customer to pause long enough to look closer, then closer still,” Imboden said. “Rhinestones and chromed plastic won’t bear the scrutiny — only an honesty of design and presentation will. Genuine luxury is best marketed with transparency rather than hyperbole — if you’re truly operating in the realm of luxury, the product and brand will communicate this themselves. Help this along by showing how you create and construct your products. Show your attention to detail and demonstrate the lengths to which you’re willing to go to express your ideals. Hermes recently took a handful of their craftsman on a global tour to do exactly this.
“The appearance of the word ‘luxury’ in your marketing materials is a good sign that you’re pointed in the wrong direction. Margaret Thatcher said, ‘Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.’ You could say the same of luxury.”
Germany-based Fun Factory shares similar sentiments about marketing.
Emilie Rosanvallon, Fun Factory USA’s marketing and sales manager says, “Fun Factory’s branding elements do not involve the use of the word “luxury” anywhere, precisely because luxury is virtually nothing more than a marketing concept and we focus on keeping it real, not communicating a bunch of fluff. The key brand element for us is ‘perfection’ from a quality standpoint, hence our life-time guarantee, which no other vibrator company in the world can afford to offer, to this day, on motorized items.”
BMS Factory President Steve Bannister says when it came to marketing its high-end Leaf range, it also took a “less is more” approach.
“We use marketing simply to get people initially interested,” Bannister said. “Once the person picks up the product and holds it in their hands, it begins to sell itself. Using our Leaf collection as an example, we went with a very spa-like feel in our promotional material. A beautiful close-up picture of the Life placed on some towels sounds simple, but we must have taken about 150 pictures, all slightly different and narrowed it down to a single shot. It portrays exactly what Leaf stands for. And with very little words on the poster, this feeling is perfectly conveyed to the customer. When our customers notice this level of attention and detail put into advertising and how a product stands out among the rest, they know it’s something special.”
According to Byerley, in order to get consumers to invest in a high-end product, We-Vibe appeals to consumer needs and their increased knowledge of the marketplace.
“At Standard Innovation, we do extensive research into consumer needs,” Byerley said. “Today’s consumers are more aware of their environment; they’re more aware of safety. And, of course, the primary need is for reliable, targeted stimulation. We design our products to appeal to today’shighly aware consumers and we talk about that in our product information. Consumers pay more for premium-end products because the benefits derived resonate with their needs.”
With an increased awareness and appreciation for intimate relationships inspired by the recent “Fifty Shades” phenomenon, LELO Marketing Director Donna Faro says couples friendly products are currently all the rage.
“Premium couples’ massagers certainly appear among the most popular right now,” Faro said. “Our Insignia SenseMotion 2 couples’ toys have broken numerous sales records since their debut, and consumers are eager for more and more! But that’s the thing to note, LELO products are not a substitute for a partner — every LELO can be enjoyed with a partner to enhance couples’ intimate experiences.”
According to Faro, the majority of devoted LELO fans consist of knowledgeable consumers.
“LELO is a brand that anyone can enjoy, but our customers are predominantly discerning women and their partners, who understand the value and importance of using superior quality intimate massagers,” Faro said. “They are generally between the ages of 25 and 40 years old, successful and open-minded, and are looking for ways to enhance all aspects of their lives.”
Je Joue’s Alicia Relles adds that consumer acumen is something that comes with age.
“Je Joue is really a brand that aims to reach any and every demographic, however, our market range does tend to fall around women and couples of ages 30–55,” Relles said. “This is primarily because this age bracket is usually more experienced and knowledgeable about their bodies, and therefore, places more value on the trust that our brand delivers. This means they are happy to spend a bit more money to invest in a high quality toy that delivers on its promises and lasts longer.”
As the market for luxury grows, trends show a dwindling demand for mid-range products.
“Studies have shown that in any sector the difference between the lower and higher ends of the market are becoming more pronounced, so, you either go for disposable, cheaper products or consider a purchase as an investment,” Relles said. “In our industry it seems that once consumers understand what separates the high end (luxury) products from the others they are willing to spend more money to acquire a lifestyle product.”
Offering a diverse range of products at varying price points, Fun Factory’s Emilie Rosanvallon says the brand is popular among a wide variety of shoppers.
“Out of all the luxurious brand on the market, we have the widest selection of items, ranging from double dildos and butt plugs to male vibrator to Kegel balls and female G-spot toy,” she said. “Our primary targets are female ages 24 to 39 but depending on the month, our Cobra sales (male vibrator) can surpass our female vibrator sales. We know consider men ages 29 to 45 to also be a primary target. With our Smartballs, we have opened a new segment, which is women 39 to 54. At this stage, they have become our 3rd primary target segment.”
Created as an autonomous company by Susan Colvin, who also is the president and CEO of California Exotic Novelties, JOPEN recently launched an “affordable luxury” line called KEY by JOPEN.
“For a while many people thought JOPEN was a subbrand under CalExotics, this is not the case,” said Robin Stewart, brand manager of JOPEN. “Similar to what Lexus is to Toyota, JOPEN has its own individual, unique brand identity. Susan intentionally created JOPEN to be separate so it could stand alone.
“When we craft a highend product we do it for the refined tastes of the luxury-product shopper. Understanding their wants, needs, and desires is job No. 1 for JOPEN,” Stewart continued. “Second, the product is designed to embody high-end qualities. Specifically that means using only the finest materials, such as our 100 percent body-safe, premium silicone. The amazingly strong PowerBullet motors in our Vanity and EGO items, the patented technology of Intensity, and the affordable luxury components of the new KEY by JOPEN all signify high-end qualities for JOPEN.”
Consumers of luxury products aren’t always necessarily affluent, and according to Byerley, represent a variety of demographics.
“The purchasing decision maker for our solouse vibrators—Thrill by We-Vibe, Tango by We-Vibe and Touch by We-Vibe—are females aged 25 and up,” Byerley said. “Our couples vibrators—We-Vibe 3 and We-Vibe II—are primarily purchased by females aged 35 and up with more men purchasing around Valentine’s Day. No matter where these women are located in the world, they are aware of and understand the benefits derived by purchasing a brand that is high-quality, body-safe and highly reliable. As mentioned, when a brand addresses consumers’ needs, those consumers are willing to pay more to derive the benefits that are important to them.”
For JOPEN, Robin Stewarts characterizes its target demographic as: “Women and couples who prefer exceptional pleasure product experiences are the target audience for JOPEN. With a middle to high income, ranging in age from 25 to 55, the demographic is educated and has at least some disposable income.”
Jimmyjane doesn’t have a target demographic, Imboden says. “Instead, we’re targeting a consumer who shares our belief that if anything should be beautifully designed and made, it’s the products that engage our sexuality. To this audience a Jimmyjane product is not a luxury, it’s an acknowledgement of the importance of sexuality in our lives.
“Our goal is to reach as many of these people as possible,” Imboden continued. “To this end, we are continually striving to deliver to our standards of innovation and quality at as accessible a price point as possible — but we will not bend our standards.”
OhMiBod’s innovative product range has earned it a unique target market.
“For OhMiBod, I would say a trendsetter/technofile which basically covers all those women between the ages of 20–45,” OhMiBod founder Suki Dunham said.
On the B2B front, luxury brands are faced with the challenge of standing out and maintaining their prestige among a sea of competition and copycats.
“We’ve patented our intellectual property to protect our channel partners, our valued customers, and ourselves,” Standard Innovation’s Byerley said. “Unfortunately, another challenge that premium brands face is product counterfeiting. To protect our image and maintain our prestige in the marketplace, Standard Innovation aggressively pursues counterfeiters. We ask potential customers to visit our website to locate authorized resellers of authentic We-Vibe vibrators.”
Last year, Standard Innovation filed a patent infringement suit against LELO, naming a slew of manufacturers, distributors and retailers as respondents. As LELO and We-Vibe each continue to vigorously defend their brand’s integrity, both high-end manufacturers agree that their value is beyond the popularity of a particular design.
“Communicating the qualities of LELO, in an industry that full of largerthan - life claims — where every new product is the next big thing, is certainly a challenge we have had to overcome,” said Donna Faro, marketing director for LELO. “Also, of course there is the challenge of multiple brands copying your products appearance, but there’s more to making a LELO than just copying the shape!
“The LELO brand image is vital,” Faro continued. “In everything we do, we apply the same values as you would expect from LELO, since people deserve premium quality in terms of customer service, product presentation as well as the products we produce. We always try to excite them about the possibilities and surpass their expectations, and that will always be our No. 1 priority. The brand is also one thing that cannot be copied — people trust LELO for the consistent values we have upheld for almost a decade, and they will continue to do so as long as we keep producing the best products on the market.”
Fun Factory’s Emilie Rosanvallon echoes a concern over knock-offs, as well as costs associated with manufacturing high quality products.
“The challenge for Fun Factory is the high production cost of manufacturing in Germany as opposed to China, using top of the line materials, technology and research teams,” Rosanvallon said. “We want our items to stay between $100 and $150 MSRP and this might mean we occasionally settle for slimmer margins than we would like as a manufacturer. Another challenge lies in our ability (or lack thereof) to protect our designs and technology. Successful products made by leading luxury manufacturers such as Fun Factory are being copied. The copies are made out of cheap materials, and then sold at lower prices. The good challenge we face is that with competition getting fiercer every year, Fun Factory has to come up with new revolutionary products such as the STRONIC, in order to secure market shares.”
Similarly, Dunham says that the increased competition is healthy for business.
“The high-end market is being driven by a couple of things,” she said, “[such as] new brands/companies that are approaching the pleasure products industry with fresh eyes and ideas. As these new products are launched demand is created and expectations are raised.”
Another common move for luxury brands is to establish exclusive distribution channels.
“Our approach is to work with the ‘best-of-the-best’ distributors and retailers from around the world and to provide them with worldclass support, training and merchandising tools,” Standard Innovation Corporation’s Lorraine Byerley said. “We also recognize that our channel partners know their local market and customers best. We rely on them and we trust them to guide us so that our promotion, packaging and distribution strategy appeals to their customers while remaining consistent with our brand promise and core values.”
To protect its brand, Je Joue says it follows a simple recipe of maintaining effective communication and relationships with its consumers as well as retailers and distributors.
“Listening to retailers and consumer’s feedback, recommendations and ideas is what inspires us in the creation of new toys — we truly believe it’s what makes a brand last,” Relles said.