The 1984 box cover for "Ginger," starring the titular Ginger Lynn, launched fledgling Vivid Entertainment into the stratosphere. The simple and tasteful image of a wholesome California beach bunny tapped into a cultural zeitgeist that can be traced to the iconic footprints of Sandra Dee's "Gidget" (1959) and "Tammy" (1961).
"I looked like what might be your best friend's sister," Ginger Lynn said in 2004. "I didn't look like I belonged on a street corner. The combination of a great box cover and young, beautiful women became Vivid's trademark."
Vivid founders Steve Hirsch and David James sank a great deal of their budget for "Ginger" into creating the couples-friendly box cover. The results were phenomenal. The video sold 6,000 copies out the door and went on to gross nearly $700,000 and launched a line of sequels, including "The Ginger Effect," "Ginger and Spice" and "Gentlemen Prefer Ginger."
Twenty-one years after the debut of "Ginger," it is the opinion of more than a few both inside and outside the adult entertainment industry that the business has lost its way where product packaging is concerned.
But the power of the box cover can no doubt have a powerful effect on consumers. Jenna Jameson is the perfect example. Whether her success can be attributed more to savvy marketing than actual consumer desire is a matter for future pop-culture historians to debate. But in the here and now, the facts are that Jameson's videos and DVDs, with bold and clean designs packaged with couples in mind, consistently place in the top-10 video sales and rentals charts.
"The box cover is the point of purchase for consumers of adult movies," says Greg, a graphic designer who accepts adult content contracts on a very selective basis. "The box cover is the bread and butter of producers and distributors, and it frustrates me that a lot of them don't want to make the extra effort to put together a good-looking product."
Every company operating out of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, Greg observes, "seems to have a different approach" where box covers are concerned.
"It's a very freeform society," he says. But one factor, Greg believes, unites all adult content producers, large and small. "They are satisfied to make a reasonable profit," he says. "If a company makes 20 videos a year and they sell 5,000 units, they're happy."
Box Cover Apathy?
The drive to break even and pocket a decent but not stellar profit, he has observed, leads to apathy about box cover packaging and design. Greg is selective about what companies he designs for because he finds most producers "too hard to work with or too cheap."
"Usually they don't have any idea of what they want on the box cover," he said. "And extracting text for the cover design is near impossible with these guys."
Many gonzo producers have approached him with box cover budgets ranging from $400-$800.
"The real world price for a decent box cover, not including the photo shoot, is between $1,500 and $3,000."
But many consumers and critics distrust well-designed box covers, which may add a further layer of explanation about ennui among content producers.
"I don't buy movies based on box covers. I just don't," adult DVD reviewer Big Dick Salmon writes at foundry music.com. "It's a bad habit to get into, and you usually wind up getting tricked by a lot of air brushing and false advertising."
At Nightcharm.com, writer Keith Bryan ranks box covers high on his list of "10 Things I Hate About Gay Porn." "You, my friend, are the target audience for the great bait and switch," he said. "In other words, don't judge a video by its cover. Generally speaking, a video studio will highlight a particular actor, or scene, on a box cover, often in the most flattering light possible. Be warned, things are not always what they seem. If something looks even the slightest bit shabby, it probably is... Crappy videos with great box covers will continue to be produced so long as people are afraid to return videos because they are ashamed."
Wantedlist.com seeks to capitalize on consumer wariness for buying and renting adult movies from brick-and-mortar stores with the introduction of their online movie rental service patterned after the success of Netflix.
"We are a preview service," Wantedlist.com says in its mission statement. "Too many times consumers have been lured in by pretty box covers to only be disappointed in the actual content of the movie. Our belief is that people should be able to watch the movie before they buy it."
As the fallout from the new 2257 secondary producer provisions proves, multiple and extremely graphic images on the package design is far from the right answer. In July, Adult DVD Empire was forced to remove thousands of box covers from its award-winning website.
In an effort to counteract the frustration experienced by customers browsing restricted titles, the Warrendale, Pa.-based service launched a 2257 sale. The sale was populated by titles missing a box cover image. To keep with the theme of the new regulation, and to highlight the absurdity of the situation, all titles with restricted box covers were marked down 22.57 percent from their normal retail price.
While companies like Adult DVD Empire and many others scramble to remove non-2257 compliant box covers from their websites, such brick-and-mortar retailers as Tower Records, Musicland and Virgin Megastores, to name a few, continue to sell titles from producers like Peach DVD which emphasizes "glamorous and elegant portraits of the girls" on their box covers.
In 2003, Peach DVD, launched by some of the creative forces behind the hugely successful Vivid Interactive, was approached by scores of retailers asking for "a slightly softer, less revealing box cover option" along with Peach's own front line covers, so that they could choose which one best fit their varied markets.
The new covers allowed Peach to enter markets that had expressed interest in profiting from mature DVDs but needed a kinder, gentler profile to offer to their customers.
"Without meaningful movie reviews like you have in the real world," notes Greg, "the box covers [for adult product] are the only thing the customer has to go by. And that box cover has to be great."