Toy Me Up, Toy Me Down

JC Adams
The TitanMen Wreckd’em. The Rascal Ass Rod Anal Training Kit. The COLT 14-inch Thruster. They may be known in gay-biz parlance as “novelties” or “toys” but these gay adult-branded tangibles are serious business — and they are definitely meant for men.

Gay porn adult toys are such big business that three of its top lines are managed and produced by several giants of the novelty sector: California Exotic Novelties, Doc Johnson and Topco Sales.

Reps from all three companies spoke about the importance of tangibles such as adult toys, lubes, apparel and other items in building a gay section of brick-and-mortar stores beyond the foundation of DVDs. And the same logic applies to luring webstore gay men who seek to enhance their porn experience beyond mere visual stimulation.

Al Bloom, director of marketing for CalExotics, stressed the appeal of the “well-rounded” selection of items in its COLT Studio-branded line. “The selection of items appeal to different segments of the demographic, from apparel to genuine casts of the COLT stars to masturbators and pumps, vibrating probes, douche systems, the line has something for everyone,” he said. “And not just gay men.”

Many of the items were designed to hold crossover appeal. And the “neutral, nonthreatening” packaging of the COLT line has boosted sales on the straight side. “Our retailers like the uniform look of the line and ‘COLT Corner’ display tools. They make a nice splash on the wall and draw consumers to it. This constant cross-promotional work has created the brand in the toy arena.”

Bloom also praised COLT’s in-house marketing efforts. “They are masterful at promoting their brand with personal appearances and special events,” he said. “The creation of a novelty line was just the extension of a well-conceived overall marketing plan.”

“Topco Sales understands that the gay novelty market is very specialized and much different than the straight novelty market,” said Desiree Duffie, the company’s director of marketing for the Rascal Video brand of toys.

The mere inclusion of gay-targeted packaging simply isn’t enough anymore. “It’s not our idea of creating a viable gay brand,” she said.

CalExotics are aided by market awareness of the COLT Studio brand, Topco can tap into the significant marketing muscle of directrix Chi Chi LaRue.

“We worked very closely with Chi Chi and Channel 1 Releasing to create a brand extension of their popular Rascal movies,” Duffie said. “Our development department worked very hard to create items designed specifically for the line.”

Echoing the experience of others in the category, Duffie notes the most successful items are “replica pieces molded directly from some of Chi Chi’s most popular video stars. All of them see high sales.” Beyond a brand name, the added oomph of a dildo molded from the bulging erection of a studio exclusive is an evergreen promo tactic.

An early creative decision was made as Titan Media set about creating its TitanMen Tools line with Doc Johnson.

“The ‘Tools’ name was something we came up with to further differentiate our products from others on the market,” said studio VP Keith Webb. “We always thought it was too feminine to call them ‘toys.’ That term was better suited for a women’s or couples market, not gay men. We wanted to market our line in a more masculine way and we felt the term ‘tools’ was more fitting for our brand image.”

The descriptive also opened up a new vein of promo hooks: its “Toys are for boys, Tools are for men” tagline, for example. “We can also play on the masculine imagery of power tools, hand tools, lube jobs, grease. Things you would find in a garage that are more masculine,” Webb noted.

Along those lines, the studio created the TitanMen Service Station into what Webb termed “one cohesive gay marketing fixture for stores.” The standalone station includes slots for every TitanMenbranded product category including novelties, lubricants, DVDs and Blu-ray titles.

Doc Johnson sought out a gay adult company with a top-down understanding of marketing and promotions beyond DVDs. “Titan is absolutely at the top of the gay media hill,” said Chad Braverman, Doc Johnson’s director of product development and licensing.

Doc’s outreach includes face-to-face communication with retailers. “We don’t treat any line in our collection differently,” Braverman said. “We have an incredible sales staff that travels the country working with distributors to assist in any way possible. If a retail store has a concern, we do everything in our power to provide a solution.”

The renaming of TitanMen novelties as “tools” has provided a powerful sales boost. “It signified a strong, more masculine product line. So far it is exceeding our expectations,” he said.

CalExotics’ Bloom notes that appealing to the gay-male demographic has “become a little easier” over the years. “Society is less homophobic and has evolved to the point that gay-oriented articles are not relegated to some back corner of a retail store,” he said. “And the explosion on the Internet of specialty retailers has expanded our exposure.”

CalExotics, Topco and Doc Johnson each have plans for expanded lines and new products in the pipeline.

“We never kiss and tell,” Bloom said. “That’s the fun of launching new items. However, the COLT Basics line has done extremely well due to its overall appeal.”

“We keep our new products and brands very close to the vest,” Topco’s Duffie said. “But I will tease you a bit: We have another gay line in the works right now. It is also a licensed line with a big name that will surely make a huge impact when it hits the market.”

Titan Media will be releasing its first realistics later this year. “That’s our new stuff coming down the line,” Webb said. “We’ve molded the cocks and asses so far of Marco Blaze and François Sagat. And we’ve filmed the whole process for BTS documentaries. In a market like this one you have to diversify, do anything and everything you can to hold onto your market share.”