The Name Game

Metis Black
What's in a name? A name is a label that brands a concept or an idea and it distinguishes a product as a class or category. So what's the difference between "adult toy," "novelty," and "sexual health and wellness products?"

Is it just a linguistic exercise in political correctness? Is it a name game? Is it a category differentiator?

For some manufacturers of sex-oriented products and for some retailers, distancing themselves from the "adult" or "novelty" references and iconography is much more than just political posturing — it's a business plan.

There are more high-quality sexual products making their way to market than ever before, and they are broadening sales potential because they are broadening marketplace options. It isn't just the Walgreen's, Rite Aids and Sharper Images that are making this happen; it's the Babelands, the Booty Parlors, the Freddy & Eddys, and the Pleasure Chests.

As the president of Tantus, I've come to realize that this alignment with sexual health and wellbeing offers us a big bright future. We have trademarked "the science of sensation" with our anatomically targeted designs and "healthy for the body" with our high-quality, 100-percent ultra-premium platinum silicone. We have presented ourselves to a couples-based clientele with tasteful packaging that emphasizes our products' benefits. What we haven't done, until now, is remove the "novelty" and "adult" labels from our own lexicon.

The leasing of porn personalities or video production company brands is still a healthy — and profitable — business model and there is nothing wrong with it. But for Tantus, the further we distance ourselves from porn and the adult industry, the more apt we are to get mentions in Marie Claire, Women's Health, Men's Health or O Magazine. This is central to our business plan and we are not alone.

Tantus has some amazing colleagues it stands with on this business issue: Natural Contours, Pjur, Lelo, Fun Factory, Njoy, Big Teaze and Vibratex are just a few of the manufacturers who have stepped up and edited the "adult" out of their marketing material. Many had the foresight to never let it enter their business plans in the first place. It isn't difficult to understand the benefits of this when Natural Contours is able to land their products in Etos, a chain of pharmacies in the Netherlands.

Big Teaze President Tony Levine said that the company designs products that appeal to emotion and passion, and markets them accordingly.

"We've been very fortunate that the right people have recognized what we've done and they have pulled us towards our market," Levine said.

And if you think it's just the small manufacturers who are moving in this direction, think again. California Exotic Novelties may license Tera Patrick and Gina Lynn but they also have had a licensing agreement with Berman Center Inc. since 2004. And Susan Colvin has even had the foresight to trademark its Intimate Accessories line.

SSL Healthcare, better known to most of us as Durex, is probably the biggest player that has positioned itself as a sexual health and wellbeing company. I'd like to repeat to you the verbiage on SSL Healthcare's 2007 annual report sent to its stockholders: "This broader product portfolio is at the heart of Durex's repositioning, from a condom brand offering safer sex to a sexual wellbeing brand offering consumers the promise of better sex." Not once is "novelty" or "adult" used in the 100-page document. And with a healthy 17.5 percent adjusted growth in Durex division sales ($367 million of the corporation's nearly billion-dollar overall sales), I'm paying close attention to this leader in a big way.

Richie Harris, CEO of lubricant manufacturer Pjur USA, is very impassioned about the way personal lubricants are presented.

"The adult industry has been lax in disguising class 2 medical devices as topical-use-only ointments," he said. "Pjur does extensive research and [gets] FDA approval in every product we bring to market. It costs a lot of money, but it's responsible. In our category so much product is available that isn't researched and isn't safe for putting inside your body. Much of it comes from Asia and consumers don't know what they're getting."

Harris goes on to say that many retailers are "cleaning house," with buyers paying closer attention to the products they are stocking, and in doing so, making their stores more couples friendly and increasing sales by educating their customers on what they're buying.

"The market for the dirty little bookstore is dying," Harris said.

While discussing this article with XBIZ, I was questioned if Tantus is going this direction, away from the "adult toy" or "adult market," and did I even want my product beside Juli Ashton's ass. Of course I do — Juli is a friend of mine.

Broadening the market doesn't mean alienating the markets we've managed to get healthier products into. It's about bringing customers into the brick-and-mortar stores, or to online shops that provide educational information that helps shoppers have more satisfying and sexually healthy experiences — shoppers who may not be the type to ever venture through store doors because of porn.

Change is a very interesting thing — some embrace it, some are neutral, and others abhor it. With "sexual health and wellness products" some companies are positioned to drive into new markets and ways of doing business by marketing directly to end users, as well as to mainstream business models and new business opportunities, such as those in the medical industry. And some aren't. But this isn't an "Us vs. Them" argument; in the end it's just plain business.

Metis Black is the president of Tantus Inc.