Pleasure Products: The Brands of Europe

Alex Parker

Whether you want to understand how the European pleasure product industry works or you have decided on entering into this potentially lucrative area, the perception of brands within the E.U. is key to success.

Brands drive retail sales and as pleasure products become part of the world of consumer products why shouldn’t sex toy brands be just as recognized as those for watches, handbags and shoes? In Europe many sex toy brands already are with anecdotal evidence from some high-street retailers indicating a shift from furtive purchasers to informed consumers in the space of the past three to four years.

In Europe many sex toy brands already are with anecdotal evidence from some high-street retailers indicating a shift from furtive purchasers to informed consumers in the space of the past three to four years.

A casual chat with one of the sales advisors at one of the biggest branded retailers in the country Ann Summers revealed just how savvy today’s shoppers are. While at a Manchester store “Tricia” told me that, “Ann Summers is a great [brand], everyone knows the name … now instead of just looking embarrassed and asking for help with products they will even ask for a product by name. They know what they want and people trust [the branded products] they know or have had recommended to them.”

One brand that Ann Summers does carry, though now badged as “Ann Summers” for their displays is Rocks-Off. Thoroughly British and very distinctive, Rocks-Off products offer body-friendly silicone forms presented in packaging that is colourful and eye-catching. Originally supplying their RO-80mm bullet in clear plastic tubes they realized several years ago that by developing in-house product design, graphic design and PR resources, they could build a brand that consumers notice.

LELO is a name that is recognized across the world for design and quality in its products. Its name is a by-word for refinement making the high-ticket price of its sex toys justifiable in the eyes of buyers. Some of LELO’s products are available gold plated for those consumers who like their sex toys with bling. LELO produce pleasure objects that are objects of desire, a potent combination in a market like Europe whose consumers recognize design flair and value the kudos that owning such an item imbues.

Perhaps that is why it was Europe that gave rise to the designer of the world’s most expensive designer cock ring by Velv’Or. Jelle Plantenga the company’s founder and chief visionary sees every one of his range of designer rings for men as equally valid as a product, from the solid gold customer products to the silicone models for consumers of more modest means. Just as the motor manufacturers build ludicrously expensive machines to win trophies and therefore publicity in Formula 1 and Le Mans, Plantenga’s high-end lines attract the press and by association anyone buying his other products can feel part of the Velv’Or family.

So do European consumers simply go weak at the knees when they see a set of 20ct gold plated LELO Luna beads? Does ostentation hold the key to being a successful brand in Europe? Of course not, the consumers in the E.U. are sophisticated and while they are not averse to spoiling themselves with an expensive toy occasionally they look for other qualities in a brand.

Brands like Pabo, Ann Summers and Lovehoney have a high profile and endeavour to make themselves approachable and acceptable to the public at large. The latter even managed to get TV ads past the often fickle and occasionally puritanical advertising standards watchdogs in the U.K. in recent years. Mass market appeal is to be applauded but so too is choosing your market segment, then working hard to understanding its needs.

Two very successful examples of this form of market segmentation are Mister B in the Netherlands and Sh! Women’s Store in the U.K. Both have very different target audiences for their stores and products and yet they are both similar in their approach to customer service, stocking and how they present themselves to their customers — though it might not seem so at first glance,

Sh! are a reaction to the dingy, male-centric adult stores that could be found in the U.K. in the last century. Such establishments were not seen as a place for a lady to shop alone, if at all. By providing a bright, friendly, informed and informative retail environment this is a retailer that positively discriminates in favor of women. And not just by declaring itself a shop for women, because apart from “Men’s Nights” only men accompanied by women are allowed in the store. By organizing reading of erotic literature, instructional nights about sexual technique and promoting a vision of a sensual, female clientele Sh! creates an ecosystem around their brand that promotes return custom and recommendations.

As a specialist in the gay market Mister B follow a similar ethos to Sh! They are staffed by people who understand the products which they sell and often share the same passions as their customers. The brand is as uncompromising in its stocking and advertising visuals that make it plain that this is not a store for every consumer. In choosing this style Mister B makes it easy for its target segment to identify strongly with them from the moment a buyer enters a store or visits their website.

The key to success in Europe is the same as the rest of the world — knowing who your market is and understanding them. The European pleasure product market is mature and sophisticated so while that means there are plenty of talented and successful incumbents in every field from design and manufacture through distributions right to retail, there will always be room for one more if the product is effective and the brand managed well.