trends

Breaking The Mold

Bob Johnson

Like comic book superheroes, adult stars’ likenesses are used to market nearly every kind of ancillary pleasure product a brand can conceive. From legendary stars to new starlets, porn performer branding is in demand like never before.

And there’s no place where it’s become more prevalent than the novelty segment of the industry where some analysts and experts predict the business could grow to a staggering $650 million a year.

The process of creating a star-inspired sex toy has created a buzz all on its own and consumers want to hear the details.

Some of the biggest names in the novelty game have grabbed onto the idea of putting a porn name to a product for years. It’s not a new concept. Doc Johnson for example maintains it was the first ever to hit on the idea with a pussy mold of adult star Ginger Lynn — more than 30 years ago.

And a number of other novelty companies, some veterans and others new to the business, have realized how a marquee porn star’s name can give their product an added element of cache and more importantly, boost sales.

Topco, a name synonymous with sex toys for more than three decades says it was a natural progression that promoted the company to embrace adult stars. Marketing communications manager Erica Heathman says that sex toys and adult movie stars just seemed to go hand in hand.

The company began utilizing celebrities to endorse products in the early ’80s and from there, graduated to fully molded celebrity replicas. The company says it selects its licensed performers based upon their popularity and marketability. “Throughout the years we have had many celebrities grace the pages of our catalog. Our current lineup includes Penthouse Pets and a number of individual performers.” And the roster reads like a who’s who of adult talent including major names like Justine Joli, Phoenix Marie, Taylor Vixen, Veronica Ricci, Asa Akira, April Flores, Ashley Blue, Bree Olson, Inari Vachs, Jenna Haze, Joanna Angel and more.

Topco is especially proud of its celebrity collections. Heathman says the Penthouse Pet Collection and Penthouse Video Vixen lines are comprised of lifelike CyberSkin body part replicas molded directly from Penthouse models. The line has 21 products and the relatively new Vixen line has three products.

There’s also the Wildfire Celebrity Series and Joanna Angel Burning Angel Toys collections that both also feature molded, realistic CyberSkin body part replicas along with other non-molded toys with 17 and 28 items, respectively.

“Because Topco signs well-known, popular celebrities, name recognition goes a long way towards the success of these products,” Heathman says, and adds that the CyberSkin products are the bestsellers, particularly the celebrity molded items.

And adult star recognition doesn’t only benefit Topco corporate. Retailers have the opportunity to take advantage of performers’ celebrity by showcasing the items on the sales floor, by displaying them with the stars’ DVDs, books and materials, and by offering fans discounted celebrity-themed bundles.

Heathman notes that another “great, though less utilized tool,” is the in-store appearance. “Many performers will make themselves available for events and signings at retail locations. When properly publicized, such visits draw big crowds. For online retailers, each of our celebrity’s molding videos can be downloaded from our website and embedded onto the item’s web page on their own site,” she says.

California Exotic Novelties’ Director of Marketing Al Bloom agrees that porn star promotion is a key element, especially when the porn stars themselves promote the products.

“When they [stars] feature them in their films, or discuss them in interviews, it helps both us and them. One of the most important things to remember is that if we partner with someone, it is because of the equity they hold in their personal brand. By promoting themselves and the toy line, they help make the whole marketing concept more lucrative for both of us. The most successful licensed lines are ones where the star understands that they get more out of it if they put more into it,” Bloom says.

CalExotics’ star lines include Ginger Lynn, Aria Giovanni, Jana Cova, Dayton Raines, Alexis Amore, Linn Thomas and even Transsexual Jesse.

Although Bloom feels that adult stars do help sales, he believes the era of the porn star is waning. The secret, he says, is using a new starlet that’s easily recognized and has a strong fan following. He also believes a solid brand, like CalExotics, can outweigh star appeal. “Experience shows that over time our company brand has outsold any licensed line out there. In many cases an anonymous pretty girl on the package produces better sales, especially since the margins are lower since there is no royalty.”

But long-time market leader Doc Johnson still believes in the overall “power of the [porn star] pussy.”

Doc Johnson COO Chad Braverman says his company invented the concept of molding adult stars as a way of bringing the fantasy directly to the consumer early three decades ago, and that’s what ultimately sells the novelties. “Up until that point, you could only watch adult stars on video. By developing these revolutionary products, we brought the adult star into your home. These days, as the popularity of the adult star has skyrocketed, so have the mediums that they use to interact with their fans. Social media has brought us all closer and when Doc Johnson partners with a mega star, this is a great way to cross promote.”

And promote they did.

Since embracing the porn star synergy, Doc Johnson has partnered with some of the biggest stars in adult including every major Vivid contract superstar, from the original, Ginger Lynn, to the current Indian porn darling Sunny Leone. “We have partnerships with the three biggest porn stars the industry has ever produced, Jenna Jameson, Belladonna, and Sasha Grey. And in the last three years we have partnered with the biggest stars of today — Kimberly Kane, Kristina Rose, Lexi Belle, Bobbi Starr, Andy San Dimas and Lily LaBeau,” Braverman adds.

What’s added to the stars’ appeal is the sheer amount of ancillary products that have been created. Braverman reveals that his Vivid deal has yielded more than 250 brand name products from signature moldings to vibrators and beyond. The Jenna Jameson, Belladonna and Sasha Grey lines span many categories of products, all with multiple signature moldings.

Doc Johnson also attributes star power to better sales. The company’s strategy is to sell a signature product through two methods — a premier Doc Johnson product and through the stars themselves. Braverman says it’s an added benefit and greater bandwidth that regular products don’t enjoy. That, coupled with DVDs and a star’s own promotion including instore signings, also creates added benefits for the retailer.

“Up until recently, it has been mostly through the movies, products and personal appearances. These days so much can be achieved through social media. It is truly remarkable the feedback and interaction we get with our customers through Twitter and Facebook,” Braverman says.

New Sensations’ NS Novelties, in business since 2010, also believes in the value of starsoriginated hype — managing director Lavi Yedid says movie crossovers, Twitter, Facebook, word of mouth and their own websites are essential.

“Most performers are eager to support their products via social media, public appearances, etc. Shane Diesel has taken a very active role in promoting his realistic dong. He has gone to shows and endorsed it on his Facebook, and other social media outlets,” Yedid says. Despite the love for industry performers, NS has a bit of a different take on their adult star strategy. Yedid notes that because many mainstream consumers aren’t familiar with adult performers, NS selects stars whose physical or personal attributes are desirable to those considering an adult toy, more so than simply their name recognition.

The company has three novelty products within its signature line that are associated with adult stars: Ashlynn Brooke’s Perfect Pussy, Shane Diesel’s Big, Black, and Realistic Dildo, and Manuel Ferrara’s Realistic Dong. Yedid says there is a reason why a star develops a following — whether it is their appearance, their specific body parts, or particular qualities that have an appeal that goes beyond the immediate recognizable association.

“We picked Shane because of his large-size penis, Manuel Ferrara because of his performance ability and handsome cock, and Ashlynn because of her girl-next-door appeal. Obviously those three performers have huge fan-followings, but what their products offer equally appeals to those who are unfamiliar with their work,” Yedid adds.

Input from retailers also helped in the selection process. Yedid says retailers often get asked by customers to sell a performer’s specific body part, who in turn contact NS with the request. “We take all suggestions into consideration,” he says.

For example, Brooke, who was a contract star with New Sensations up until she retired, was wildly popular with her fans, according to NS. Her popularity spawned a number of requests from both distributors and fans to carry a mold of her vagina. Yedid says,”We recognized it was definitely a good decision to give them what they were asking for.”

Braverman also welcomes retailer input. “Because we are renowned as the premier brand for adult star products, we get asked all the time if we are planning on partnering with someone new. This is a great way of understanding what retailers and the end-consumer want next.”

A testament to consumer demand is the NS signature collection Ashlynn Brooke Perfect Pussy, one of the first items the company carried. The product is a life-like replica, molded directly from Brooke herself in body-safe Ultimate Skin.

And although it may seem like more of a manufacturing consideration than marketing, the actual process of securing a star’s mold for a pleasure product is often part of the entire product’s lifecycle and becomes a marketing hook of sorts.

Bloom says molding is probably one of the most fascinating parts of the sex toy creation for fans, and is often touted in the adult media as news.

The process of creating a star-inspired sex toy has created a buzz all on its own and consumers want to hear the details.

Bloom explains, “I can tell you it’s easier for the women than the men. A lady just needs to lay back and allow herself to be coated with the molding compound. In its liquid form it has the consistency of thick pudding. After several minutes it captures the essence of the star and then she’s pretty much done.

“The trick with men is they have to be ‘up’ for the occasion. A cold, wet substance slathered on their manhood often makes optimal erections difficult. Props goes out to all the men we’ve ever molded. It was not an easy time on the job for them that day,” Bloom says.

Doc Johnson’s Braverman adds that the molding is only the beginning. Photo shoots are then scheduled and the product packaging begins. He maintains that the ultimate goal is to have all the parts of the process come together at the same time in preparation for an initial release.

And it looks like the burgeoning pleasure products industry will continue to spawn more star-powered products. NS offers a variety of ancillary products, for example, that include Shane Diesel Booty Guard Desensitizing Anal Cream, Monster Meat Thickening Cream, Rock Solid Erection Cream and Stay Strong Prolonging Cream.

Braverman says Doc Johnson plans to keep doing what it’s doing and to partner with the biggest names in video — because that’s what fans want.

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