A quick question for all XBIZ readers who are also Instagram users: why is there such a huge chasm between lingerie and sex toy brands on the social media platform?
Take a look for yourself at a dozen or so of each. What’s the key differentiator? The lingerie brands are uploading a plethora of well composed, atmospheric, evocative images. And the sex toy brands? A solitary butt plug with a white background. How impressive. Oh look: a dildo … again with a white background. Then there’s the nipple clamps. Great: another plain white background! Get the very sorry picture?
In old marketing parlance, sex toy brands need to be selling more of the sizzle and less of the ... ahem … sausage — at least when it comes to B2C marketing communications.
Are cars advertised with nothing but a white background or in the factory they were assembled in? Nope. More often than not, they’re pictured beside a dramatic hill range or zipping around city streets. Why? One reason is that it’s easier for target audiences to imagine (or to put in technical terms, “self-insert”) themselves driving them in such environments. And it sure makes the ads far more interesting.
Company size has nothing to do with it either. Visit the websites of London-based fetish lingerie/jewelry designer Monika Tomcalova and her brand Persephonie Ncredible (pictured) and also Latvian lingerie company Flash You and Me, both of whom I’ve got to know over the past few months. Their marketing budgets will be a fraction of that of the big category behemoths. But when it comes to producing evocative, breathtaking images that not only show a product but also tell their own little story that has the viewer conjuring up all sorts of associated questions, they truly punch above their weight.
Do lingerie images focus on the close-up stitching or wiring? Hardly. There’s a model wearing the item. And think of all the other ingredients added: the location, the model herself, the hair and makeup, the background and any other accessories. Then there’s the posing of the model, the look on her face. And so on and so forth. In fact, the actual lingerie comprises a fairly small proportion of the overall image.
Much of the sex toy images proliferating on Instagram meanwhile have a sterile white background with a dildo or such like bang slap in the middle. There’s no context, no arousing atmosphere or other elements to make one’s imagination drift off into sexy wonderland. It might as well be a spare part listed in a farm machinery repair catalog.
With sex toys, the prevailing industry wisdom seems to be that of the product taking absolute priority. The buttons, the proverbial bells and whistles. The product, the product and not the brand. And there seems to be scant regard for seeking some sort of emotional response from the intended viewer either.
This needs to change. In old marketing parlance, sex toy brands need to be selling more of the sizzle and less of the ... ahem … sausage — at least when it comes to B2C marketing communications. More benefits conveyed and less features, if you don’t mind.
I should reiterate that just in case anyone thinks for a second I’m suggesting the sex toy equivalent is an image of a man or woman legs akimbo using a dildo or stroker like there’s no tomorrow, relax: I’m not. That’s more than a touch gauche, never mind flouting sundry advertising regulations. At the same time however, there’s definitely a middle ground to be explored. But instead of legs, it’s creative minds that need opening.
If you’re an up-and-coming pleasure product brand then take your inspiration from not only lingerie advertisements but those from completely different industries. Also remember that while it’s best not to overtly sexualize your imagery, you can be using humor, status and aspirational cues and a whole lot more to great effect.
Furthermore, you should be adding props to support your proposition. Take a look in your refrigerator or freezer and pick up a few of the frozen food boxes or cartons in there. Look at the main image. Is it only showing the product itself, heaped perhaps — wait for it — with just a white background? Far from it. It’s served up in a nice plate or bowl on a table accompanied by cutlery and the usual bits and bobs you’d expect to have around when eating. And what’s printed at the bottom of the carton? “Serving suggestion.”
This is exactly how you should be thinking when it comes to your B2C pleasure product imagery. What would be the serving suggestion for your items? What elements can you add to the image to make it resonate with your target audience and really get them to visualize owning it and using it as hinted. Your subsequent imagery will be so much more enticing.
One of the obvious reasons lingerie brands have it somewhat “easier” is that adding a living, breathing human into the mix immediately offers the ability to inject mood and emotion. Aim to do the same. Your visual imagery should be aiming to make that initial emotional connection with your target audience or at least give some raw material and context to begin visualizing. This is then backed up by compelling facts, rationales and arguments in your wonderfully crafted Instagram text below.
White or tinted backgrounds are great for B2B ads or features in magazines like XBIZ. They aid in quickly — pardon the expression — getting to grips with the product while offering plenty of space for key bullet-pointed product or pricing information and the like. But for retailers selling these wares to end users they should be asking the big brands to support them in this by providing a range of “serving suggestion” images or alternatively, they need to be doing some of this themselves.
Young, independent lingerie brands are already providing content in the form of satisfied customers wearing their products. And while I’m not advocating sex toy retailers upload images of their customers in the heat of the moment, there’s nevertheless a lot of open territory to be explored. For aesthetically pleasing pleasure products, why not photograph them in the context of other similarly attractive things or settings? Italian dildo makers Persian Palm produce hand-painted ceramic dildos that are as much objects d’art as sex toys, and if suitably open minded could be displayed on a mantelpiece rather than hidden away in the beside drawer.
In short, anything to make sex toy retailers’ Instagram (and other social media channels for that matter) feeds a lot more engaging and evocative is a good thing. Give B2C consumers context and creativity while please, please, please, ditching the white backgrounds!
Brian Gray is the founder and head consultant at Lascivious Marketing, based in Glasgow, U.K. With two decades of marketing experience in a variety of roles and industry sectors, Gray helps manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers in the erotic industry improve their marketing performance through strong brand creation, better customer understanding and insight, tailored marketing planning and communications through focused effort. He was also the founder of the XBIZ.net London Gathering networking events back in 2010. Gray can be contacted at lasciviousmarketing.com, found on Twitter at @LasciviousMktng and XBIZ.net or phoned on +44 (0)141 255 0769.