3 M's of Materials, Marketing and Masturbation

Anne Winter
For our Hot Issue, XBIZ explored three themes that have been lighting a fire under the toy biz this year: materials that are as “green” for the earth as they are for the body; marketing direct-to-consumer without traditional advertising; and masturbation trends inspiring even the most vanilla to explore the extreme.

More manufacturers — both the big guys and the boutiques — are debuting products made from materials that were once considered alternative, and with consumer awareness at an all-time high, it’s never been easier to get them to try something new.

Gone are the days of rubber vs. plastic, and stores are reserving shelf and showcase space for glass, metal, stone and even wood sex toys that, just a few years ago, caused some shoppers to wonder, “You want me to put what where?”

“The days of the ‘porn shop’ are gone,” said Aaron Verity, owner of handmade glass toy company Pyrexions. “Now they’re all ‘boutiques,’ and [clerks] are educated about what they’re selling, and realizing that people coming in want to know that the people selling to them are aware and educated. The education part is what has brought glass to where it is now.”

Verity said that when glass initially hit the market, people seemed almost afraid of it, but now that it’s been on the market long enough, it’s become a staple, and fear is a thing of the past.

“Glass is nonporous, hypoallergenic and nothing absorbs into it,” Verity said. “And it falls into the ‘green’ category. If treated and taken care of properly, it will outlive you. And if you do have to throw it away, it can be recycled. It won’t leach into landfills like a plastic or rubber toy.”

Coyote Days, head buyer at San Francisco-based adult boutique Good Vibrations, said that the green element combined with the unique sensation glass offers the user is what inspires her customers to make the purchase.

“What really intrigues [customers] is how glass feels, how it interacts with their bodies — the pressure, the slickness and how it differs from the toys they are used to using,” Days said.

And it’s clear a toy trend is here to stay when the largest manufacturers in the industry follow suit. Adult toy giant Doc Johnson recently expanded its Glass Dreams line to include a full collection of glass shapes, and has plans to add more later this year.

Like glass, metal toys have a similar temperature-conductive feature that makes for great sensory play. And, like glass, its slick nonporous surface provides a hygienic, easy-to-clean exterior that is compatible with every lubricant on the market.

Aluminum has become increasingly common in the toy world as a lightweight alternative to steel, a material made popular in part by insertables designer Njoy. Doc Johnson and manufacturer Don Wands both are making forays into aluminum use this year, and companies such as Big Teaze — famous for its I Rub My Duckie vibrating bath toys — and silicone toy specialist Tantus Inc. have begun releasing small batches of vibrators and insertables made from the lightweight metal.

“We felt that aluminum helps us to speak clearly to the philosophy that we’ve always practiced, which is healthy for the body, but also healthy for the environment,” former Tantus Director of Sales and Marketing Michelle Goodbrand said. “Aluminum allows us to recycle the waste products very easily, which we find to be healthy for the environment.”

There are a few companies taking metal-manufacturing to new heights, using precious materials including gold to give their vibrators and insertables a special look — and a special price tag. Swedish luxury toy designer LELO debuted its Luxe line with the 18 karat gold Yva vibrator, and has followed suit with a suite of gold and stainless steel plated vibes.

“Metals, even precious metals, are great thermo-conductors,” LELO U.S. Sales and Marketing Manager Shaye Saldana said. “Obviously we want our Luxe line to provide something more than just beautiful objects and bragging rights. Metals such as stainless steel and gold are hygienic as they are nonporous and very easy to clean. We don’t need our customers to worry about phthalatefree, medical-grade silicone, intuitive controls or battery-free operation — we’ve considered these issues on our own.”

Though more pricey than the average sex toy, LELO Luxe has had great success in Europe, Asia and Australia, and surprisingly has a strong presence in parts of the world, including the Middle East, where one might not think luxurious sex toys would thrive.

In the U.S., LELO Luxe has made an impression at a variety of high-end lifestyle boutiques, and recently was picked up by the Wynn Las Vegas Casino and Resort’s lingerie boutique, Black Satin. The boutique even stocks Inez, LELO’s $10,500 18-karat gold vibe.

“We feel that if people are going to spend money on something so personally pleasing, it might as well be something that carries a strong warranty, can be depended upon and is worth the money spent,” Saldana said. “Our target demographic would be the person who truly wants to indulge in something that will last over time.”

Another sex toy material making strides in the biz is wood, a lightweight alternative for users looking for a firm toy without the cold hard exterior that metal offers. There are only a few companies using wood — Woodpeckers Roost, creator of the hand-carved Jildo, should come to mind — as a primary material, but glass manufacturer Don Wands has taken it to a new level with the Treeze line.

Rather than carving a product from a solid block of wood, Don Wands has created interchangeable sleeves made from compressed wood, according to comcompany Product Manager Mike Sessoms.

“It’s a wood hybrid,” Sessoms said. “We take layered wood, heated and compressed, and hook it to a vacuum. It’s injected with resin to fill the little pores that are natural in wood, and it becomes completely nonporous. We manufacture smoking accessories and use the same material, and wanted to bring something unique and new to the industry.”

Each Treeze item features a full-length vibrator that screws into the wood sleeve with an internal thread, resulting in an interchangeable vibe system. There are multiple sleeves available, Sessoms said, and each comes with a padded pouch, batteries and lubricant, so swapping shapes and styles is easy.

“We started research and development about six months ago,” Sessoms said. “We got good feedback. [The material] is silky smooth, not as much as glass, but they have a nice sheen.”

Another eco-friendly material getting more play in the intimate care side of adult product manufacturing is soy, which is found in more body care products and massage candles than ever. Soy is often used as an alternative to petroleum, and adult companies such as adult retailer Babeland, which launched its own ecofriendly line of body products, and Classic Erotica have taken note.

“Soy is all-natural and amazingly good for the skin,” Classic Erotica Product Education Specialist Morty Diamond said. “Soy has essential amino acids, is softening to the skin, protective, and was the natural way to go for our massage candles.”

Classic Erotica recently released seven varieties of its soy massage candle, each with its own sensual scent theme, and in order to evade the higher price tag in which using soy often results, the company offered the candles in smaller sizes.

“In lieu of the current economic challenges, we chose a smaller size and price point from what is currently available on the market,” Diamond said. “We took a great idea, the soy massage candle, and made it better by adding pheromones. We have the only pheromone-enhanced candle on the market.”

Diamond said that soy as a natural ingredient has become increasingly popular in the last year, and consumers are more educated and interested in being educated further about what they're buying.

"This being a newer product, soy was definitely the way to go considering the 'hotness' factor, and the consistency and texture of the soy was absolutely perfect for massage," Diamond said. "also in the past year there's been a new resurgence in people interested in white tea."

As a result, Classic Erotica has begun using white tea in its body spray. The added ingredient is meant to be a skin nourisher and some studies show white tea may act as protection from the sun's UV rays.

With so many products to choose from, it has become as important for manufacturers to educate consumers of their product lines as it is to educate the store clerks in charge of selling them. The end goal is to have a shopper ask for a product by name - brand recognition is the key to brand loyalty, and companies have become increasingly creative in getting their names on people's minds.

Smaller companies who don't have a huge sales team in charge of educating store employees must devote mroe time and effrort into creating merchandising plans that not only offer stores detailed product information, but also tools that make the sale jsut a bit easier.

The Screaming O recently released an in-store marketing kit with a variety of promotional tools, including signage, posters, counter-top displays, and interactive sales techniques that encourages upsells, multiple sales and repeat sales.

"We put together a collection of items to help the store sell the product," Screaming O partner Keith Caggiano said. "Every time you go through the drive-through, they ask, 'Do you want fries with that?' It's the same concept. There are so many things people might want to also buy, which [could add] $10-$15 to each sale."

The kit features a counter-top change mat with, "Would you like a Screaming O with that?" printed in bold lettering, a "Frequent Screamer" punch card that offers the user a free Screaming O vibrating ring with each tenth purchase, and a Vibrating Man promotional concept meant to encourage multiple sales.

The Screaming O's product line-up features vibrating tools that work using different parts of the body - the Fing-O is a fingertip vibe, the Ling-O is a vibe worn on the tongue, the Screaming O is a vibrating ring worn around the penis - and by putting them together, the concept of a "vibrating man" was born.

It's a cool dynamic poster," Caggiano said. "The store decides the combination, the price, and can run a 'Vibrating Man' special. It sells three items, and it's a lot of fun, too, instead of selling one thing."

Caggiano said that with merchandising tools like these, there is opportunity to market directly to the consumer the instant he or she walks into the store.

"Getting information to each store in the country is not necessaryily easy," Caggiano said. "We have built an effective program that the retailer [can} take advantage of."

But what if you want the consumer to know exactly what brand he or she wants to buy before walking into the store? That's where direct-to-consumer branding comes in, and several companies have forged the connections and relationships that have allowed them to take advantage of product placement in mainstream events, television appearances, magazine write-ups and even on the big screen.

Adult novelty bigwig Doc Johnson went so far as hiring a mainstream PR firm, one known for its relationships with set designers, magazine editors, and production companies, so that the company could retain its focus on product manufacturing.

"We have a great sales team that is on the road and has good relationships with [retail] customers, " said Chad Braverman, Doc Johnson's director of product development and licensing. "I can make the best product and hope that the person working at the store likes it and will recommend it to consumers, but we feel we get a head start if the consumer comes in and says 'I saw this item and this is what I'm looking for.' That is what I'm looking to get for Doc."

Doc Johnson has received mention in several mainstream magazines, including receiving two Women's Health Magaziner awards, and recently provided a store's worth of product for the season finale of CBS comedy "Rules of Engagement." The brand also will receive recognition in the upcoming Adam Sandler-written film, "Born To Be A Star," and in "Peep World," a comedy starring Michael C. Hall.

"You have to plant the seed and get into their heads that we're available, have such a large variety of product to offer, and can meet anyone's needs," said Jordan Byrnes, part of Doc Johnson's publicity teams at L.A.-based Fifteen Minutes PR. "It's a testament to the fact that the mainstream television and film industries are opening up to discussing the topic. The taboos are being lifted.

Byrnes said mainstream inquiries have become more frequent in the last year, and opportunities for this kind of product placement are more available as show themes and plotlines become more liberal with the topic of sexuality.

Another major name in toy production, Topco Sales, has taken a different turn with mainstream marketing and formed relationships with various promoters and organizations to get their vast array of market-specific brands into gift bags, party suites, and other high-visibility events.

The company's grrl toyz line of female-friendly items, one of the company's premier in-house brands designed to appeal to first-time buyers, has been an ideal fit for various female-focused events, including a party for Paris HIlton held at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, the 2008 American Fertility Association Gala, several promotional events for the film "Sex and the City," and Topco even received a request to donate a grrl toyz basket for a Mom and Me Tea Fundraiser benefiting the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

People, especially women, are opening up the the world of sex toys like never before, seeing that toys and sexuality is normal, healthy and fun, and a lot of the products we make don't have the connotation to them that it's wrong or dirty," said Desiree Duffie, Topco's director of marketing and public relations.

Topco's Rascal brand, made for adult directrix Chi Chi LaRue's Rascal Video label, was also featured during the 2008 Sundance Festival at the Queer Lounge party, but Duffie said the key to branding at those kinds of parties is not just offering free product, but also providing branded items that prompt partygoers to wear and use in public.

Topco provided Rascal necklaces and grrl toyz T-shirts, as well as items with mainstream appeal that were risque enough to be fun for the partygoers without being over the top. Attendees of the Paris Hilton party received wrist cuffs and collars that they could open and wear right then and there, and guests of Sundance's MySpace VIP house were greeted with gift bags filled with lube pillow backs and branded swag.

We make so many great lifestyle brands that live wtihin the mind of the consumer," Duffie said. "If we can make an impact with the consumer and drive sales when they go into the store, that's where the power lies."

Times certainly have changed. What was once socially taboo to discuss even in the privacy of the bedroom now has become the root of many a television show, big-budget film, and magazine article, and the question on many people's minds is "What's next?"

XR LLC, parent company to a variety of adult product brands including the more adventurous Zeus Electrosex and Magnum Enlargement collections, has seen significant growth in curiosity and aceptance of masturbation tools and techniques that were once considered part of the "alternative lifestyle."

"People are always looking for something new," XR Business Development Manager James Medina said. "Another bullet? All vibrating toys still vibrate. [Consumers] look for a new sensation, but you've only got so many erogeneous zones and so many ways to stimulate them."

Medina said the popularity of electro stimulation has increased considerably as more sex bloggers have touted its perks in their online entries, and what used to only be available in kinky social circles is now available for anyone.

"Electrosex is something you can get into casually," Medina said. "You can get a $40 Electrogasm [by Zeus Electrosex]. It's affordable, you don't have to commit to something permanent like a clit piercing, and honestly a rabbit [vibrator] is more expensive."

Medina said playing with electro stimulation and "pumping," a practice that's becoming accepted as a foreplay technique - using tools to pump blood to the nipples, clitoris and penis, can, among other benefits, increase arousal exponentially - is increasingly popular with couples. There's no longer the need to find the like-minded communities to share in the fun.

"A year ago, it was still considered weird and freaky," Medina said. "Not a lot of people understood, and it was hard to explain the concept. But now it's taking off, and word of mouth is helping normalize it. You don't have to be a hardcore kinkster."