In any market sector, it pays to have a product that stands out from the crowd. When it comes to adult pleasure products, there are so many high-quality items on the market serving similar purposes and taking similar shapes that it can be difficult to fashion a product that catches the consumer’s eye and tickles their fancy at the same time. For those with the vision to conceive of a highly unusual specialty product — and the temerity to market a product that might initially strike a lot of consumers as unfamiliar or strange — the rewards can be considerable.
From the appropriately named Cockpipe to Big Teaze’s I Rub My Duckie line of iconic waterproof massagers, the modern adult specialty market offers a bevy of toys and devices that are almost as much fun to look at and talk about as they are to use. XBIZ recently sat down with three manufacturers of popular specialty items to talk about how their concepts were hatched, their approach to marketing, and the target demographic they aim to serve.
Empire Labs actually started out as a producer of highly customized molding and casting materials, primarily for prosthetic and orthotic use. -Empire Labs CEO Joe Hanson
For Heeldo co-founder Joe Wilson, the idea for his company’s flagship product — a hands-free, strap-on dildo that is worn on the foot — essentially was born by happenstance, a happy accident of sorts that was spawned by a random flash of inspiration.
“My business partner Drew Conner mentioned it in passing while we were on tour playing music together in California years ago,” Wilson told XBIZ. “Shortly after we got home, we started to do some research and realized that there was nothing on the market remotely like our idea, so we began our prototyping and manufacturing along with applying for the trademark and patent. Things just started to fall into place for us from there.”
In the case of Empire Labs, the creators of the Clone-A-Willy penile casting kit, the idea evolved from an existing line of products the company as making for a market that is quite distinct from the specialty adult products space.
“Empire Labs actually started out as a producer of highly customized molding and casting materials, primarily for prosthetic and orthotic use,” Empire Labs CEO Joe Hanson told XBIZ.
“Our materials and processes proved ideal for easily and inexpensively creating super life-like body part reproductions. Soon Hollywood was calling on us to create film props and highly detailed castings. You could say our ‘Eureka!’ moment came in 1997, when a production company requested some realistic penis replicas of varying shapes and sizes for an independent film.
“Rather than sculpt a bunch of realistic looking penises, like most special effects houses would do, we simply made a few tweaks to our existing orthotic kit and turned it into a penis copying kit. Thus the first Make Your Own Dildo kit was born. The kits were such a big hit on-set that we ultimately decided to create a retail version.”
Of course, no matter how compelling a product might be, it won’t be a money-maker unless there’s an actual market for the product, and an understanding of the target market on the part of the company selling it.
For Hydromax Bathmate, that market is a large and lucrative one: the enormous population of men who wouldn’t mind if their penis were a bit larger. In its approach to the U.S. market, the brand took a steady and measured (no pun intended!) approach.
“The Hydromax Bathmate brand has been in the USA for just a year as far as servicing the adult business,” Daniel Knecht, co-owner of Brand One, the master distributor of the product line in the U.S., told XBIZ. “Before that time it was sold on many websites in the USA, mostly penile health sites and clubs.”
As is the case with a great many brands these days, mainstream and adult alike, social media plays a large and expanding role in the marketing of the Bathmate line, a significant part of a strategy that also includes more traditional channels for the marketing of adult products.
“The social component is natural with more than 6,800 YouTube videos, many of which have gone viral,” Knecht said. “We are a new company, and social sites like Twitter and Pinterest will soon be added. We have a very aggressive adult trade campaign, and soon a PR push to mainstream publications such as Men’s Health and Fitness. We also do consumer fairs such as Exxxotica, a consumer fair that is held in various cities around the U.S.”
Heeldo gets its message across with a similarly broad approach, including a healthy dose of social media-based marketing, and a carefully targeted presence in traditional media forms.
“We’ve done a lot of work through Twitter and YouTube,” Wilson said. “In the early stages, our Twitter outreach helped grow the company and to secure interviews with Playboy Radio on SiriusXM. We also had some high-powered public figures mention and retweet us, like Kurt Sutter, the creator of ‘Sons of Anarchy,’ and Dan Savage from MTVs ‘It Gets Better,’ among others. We also have roughly 10 million views on our company YouTube pages, which helped to secure worldwide exposure for Heeldo.”
For Empire Labs, word of mouth marketing driven by couples who have used their products plays a huge role in the promotion of their DIY kits — a much greater role than other adult products receive, according to Hanson.
“If you purchase a standard sex toy such as a vibrator or a masturbator, you generally do not go into to work the next day and talk about it with your co-workers, or post your experience on Facebook,” Hanson said. “We’ve found that consumers who purchase our products are very open to sharing their experience on social media outlets. The fact that we have an amazing in-house customer service department that can handle even the most bizarre of inquiries and deal with virtually any issue that arises makes the customer’s molding experience even more memorable.”
For all three manufacturers, expanding their product lines to include new colors, versions and variations is in the cards for the months ahead, as they continue to grow their customer base and attract new consumers to their distinct but highly functional wares — and just as their original inspiration developed in an organic way, their future efforts will be defined by advances and changes that are natural and intuitive for the unusual place their brands occupy within the market.
“As sex toy materials continue to evolve, so will we,” Empire’s Hanson told XBIZ. “We’ve made it our goal to stay at the absolute top of all trends in resin science and hyper-realistic skin like materials. It’s exciting to think of what the future of Willy molding might become!”
Even more exciting, perhaps, to those who would follow in their footsteps, is the business opportunity presented by being on the vanguard of the adult specialty space. In a market where it often seems like literally everything has been done, it’s important to understand that there’s always something that hasn’t been tried, which means there’s always an opportunity knocking — at least for those with the vision and courage to answer the door.