House Calls

Katie Gallagher
In 1976, America was coping with the aftermath of the Vietnam War, fallout from Watergate, a growing energy crisis and the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. For some, society was changing too fast, for others not fast enough, and the entire country was exhausted. From the chaos emerged a youth culture fueled by drugs, music and sex.

People were ready to have fun again, and they were ready to make sex toys part of their fun. Doc Johnson founder Ron Braverman saw the opportunity to bring sex toys out of the age of hard plastic dongs and into a world of endless shapes, colors, textures and materials.

Braverman had owned several adult bookstores in Amsterdam and London, where he was introduced to a whole different way of thinking about sex in general and adult novelties in particular. In short, Europe was light years ahead of the U.S. in its attitudes toward sex as well as the development of pleasure devices. So Braverman decided to take what he had learned and apply it to create the first universally recognizable sex toy brand. The first step was coming up with a name that would stick in people's minds.

"I wanted a 100 percent universal name everyone would know," he explains. "We had recently had a president named Johnson, and because of the influence of British colonization, Johnson was the most widespread surname in the world at the time. And I chose Doc because I wanted to give the brand credibility and a sense that there was a person behind it."

From the beginning, Braverman says, the brand enjoyed overwhelming support and acceptance, partly because the marketplace was so wide open — especially the female market, which at the time wasn't being catered to at all.

The company really took off when Braverman adopted the professionalism of European packaging and added his own twist to create the first three Doc Johnson "kits" — the Anal Intruder, the Sensual Encounter and the Midnight Special. What made the products unique was that they included everything a customer needed for maximum satisfaction: vibrators, two C batteries and an assortment of sleeves.

"Kits had never been done before; there was no such thing," he says. Doc Johnson followed up on the success of its kits by branching out into never-before-used materials with the introduction of its Caress vibrator, the first to use a rubber- type material rather than hard plastic. It would be the first in a long string of technological innovations designed to make Doc Johnson's products even more realistic, eventually culminating in the development of materials such as Doc's UR-3, or Ultra-Realistic 3, a material approximating the texture of human flesh that is used in many of the company's products today.

While the products themselves represented major strides, Braverman says the single most important factor in the company's ability to stand out was its packaging.

"One thing that had been missing from adult novelties was any type of packaging," he says. "Doc Johnson was the first to ever put items into packaging where customers could read about the product. We gave them names and descriptions. It helped adult novelties break away from being generic items."

Doc Johnson continues to follow this formula by placing as much emphasis on the presentation of its products as it does the products themselves. The company's design team stays on top of fashion trends to ensure packaging is modern and accessible to the widest market possible. Specific emphasis is placed on appealing to the all-important female market, where Doc Johnson has pioneered the concept of packaging that looks more like it would contain cosmetics than sexual aids.

Video Connection
While Braverman insists traditional advertising simply isn't necessary — "Our best advertising is the fact that we come out with 250- 300 new items per year, and people go into stores looking for them because they've been satisfied in the past with our products," he says — there is one promotional tool that has been crucial to Doc Johnson's growth: the girls of Vivid Video.

"Because of the large-scale distribution of videos [in the late 1980s], people became more conscious of the stars," Braverman says. "They didn't just recognize the titles of movies, they recognized the names of the stars, and I think it was natural that they also wanted to be able to have sex with them. That's how our affiliation with Vivid [Entertainment] started. They have the best-known and finest girls. Being associated with Vivid, and Jenna Jameson and the Jenna Girls, has been our most important [strategic] relationship."

Still, even having a Vivid Girl on a package doesn't compare to good old-fashioned word-of-mouth and connecting one-on-one with customers.

"People realize when they take a Doc Johnson product home that it's something designed for pleasure," Braverman says. "They use our products in an intimate way, and they want to feel the product was created specifically for them. We've built a reputation for that, so people respond to the name Doc Johnson. It's similar to how people feel about Sony when they're buying electronics. They feel confident when they see our products in the store."