LOS ANGELES — With the proliferation of myriad pleasure products, novelties and sex toys of every ilk imaginable, comes a common marketing strategy employed by most companies to downplay the sexual titillation and make the products more appealing to mainstream consumers. Not so with the Autoblow 2.
The male stroker product is unashamedly described as a blowjob device for men and since its debut in April 2014 through a crowdfunding Indiegogo campaign that netted 2,500 orders, sales have already grown to more than 20,000 pieces according to creator Brian Sloan.
So how did a seemingly low-tech motorized device described by Sloan as the first hands-free masturbator with the build quality of a kitchen appliance rather than a toy, become such an overnight success and featured in dozens of mainstream publications and websites?
Perhaps it's a combination of functionality, experience and clever marketing. Or maybe because it simply describes what it does best — simulates blowjobs?
Sloan says the Autoblow 2 was the culmination of seven years of living in China manufacturing his own brand of sex toys — Mangasm, Ladygasm, and the original Autoblow. His team knew the market and had developed its e-commerce platform to the point where they were ready for the technical, marketing, and customer service challenges of a global product.
“I think that most guys wondered at one time or another if a robotic type device could get them off, creating a sensation close to that of pleasure caused by another person. So I kind of combined that idea with the fact that guys love blowjobs, and decided to build a machine that would do all of the work for them. In essence, I just saw that there was unmet demand for blowjobs and created a machine to help meet the demand,” Sloan says.
The original first version of Autoblow was sold only online direct to consumers and was a much less advanced battery-powered stroking toy. So Sloan decided to take it to the next step, which of course required financing.
The inventor/entrepreneur chose crowdfunding because he says it was the only way to simultaneously pre-sell products, pay for manufacturing, and have a chance at viral marketing. He believes he could have borrowed money from family or friends to complete the first manufacturing round of the product, but he balked at the idea of repayment with interest that included no marketing benefits. Crowdfunding allowed Sloan to pre-sell, get worldwide exposure and media attention due to the fact that his product was unique.
“I don’t think any reasonable person would choose the old way when the new way of funding a product comes with so many more obvious benefits. It was because of the exposure we were offered on the platform that I was profiled by Vice, Techcrunch, Business Insider, Beta Beat, Buzzfeed, and many more media outlets around the world. Of course the media exposure had a positive influence on our sales,” Sloan explains.
He adds that a video he posted of himslef in the Indiegogo campaign was also influential in the level of coverage the product has received. “It was just me, acting like me, which frankly is a bit odd. So, I think the Internet just liked that I was real in my video and it went viral on its own generating additional coverage.”
Sloan notes however the crowdfunding only helped pay for the first large manufacturing run of the product. Sloan still had to fund the R&D over a couple of years himself, saying that the crowdfunding method is best, and most safely used to only finance the manufacturing of a product that has already been developed and prototyped.
But how did Sloan manage to get money for a product that was obviously low-tech in such a high-tech iPhone-like obsessed world?
He explains that the device’s innovation skews more to design than tech. A major stumbling block was engineering the internal and removable sleeves so that they were one piece — thin enough so that a man could feel the stroking rings, but rigid enough to not collapse inside of the machine when a man inserts his penis.
“I’m not currently a big believer in the marketability of high tech sex toys. I think that consumers are concerned solely with simplicity and sensation, not technological innovation. Of course if there were a technology that increased physical pleasure, and didn’t add complexity (and too much cost), consumers would go for it,” Sloan says.
Adding features such Bluetooth connectivity or the ability to interact with videos online is a risky and expensive move without a proven large market, according to Sloan, who describes himself as a man who know what other men want: simplicity. “As a result our innovation was more on the design and marketing side — not in technology."
When asked how Autoblow compares to other masturbatory products such as the Fleshlight, Sloan says they are different styles of product. Autoblow 2, according to Sloan, is the most realistic feeling and best built automatic type of male toy on the market. He says the fact that it plugs into the wall allows the industrial strength motor (not a toy motor like on other products) to actually stroke with enough force to get the job done.
“Fleshlight makes a high quality product, but its arm-powered, so in the end, it still feels like regular masturbation even though the sleeves increase the quality of the physical sensation. The Autoblow 2 does all of the stroking, allowing guys to feel the sensation of someone else doing something to them — something an arm-powered Fleshlight clearly cannot offer. That distinction is why so many men are becoming our customers.”
Although there’s been some buzz about the product being a favorite among handicapped users, Sloan says he has only a few hundred disabled customers. He notes that a few media outlets wrote about the product as a possible solution to disabled men’s masturbation difficulties, which stirred the idea. Sloan did reveal however that the company would launch a handle soon, which, while not specifically designed for men with mobility problems, will probably be purchased by them.
“I’ve reached out to a few people who have ALS and a few with MS, and have gotten feedback from them regarding what kind of accessory might make the product easier to use. But by far, probably 99 percent of our customers are able bodied.”
And they’re buying the Autoblow. The company recently expanded by opening a distribution center in London for the European market as well as a new AutoBlow 2 website for the U.K. that will dovetail with the launch of websites across Europe in 10 languages. Sloan says his technology platform — that allows the easy launch of websites across Europe — is a key factor in his expansion plans.
And the Autoblow’s edgy marketing also accounts for its continued success.
Sloan explains that the media’s always seeking something a bit outrageous yet highly relevant in a crowded Internet news arena and he was more than happy to supply them with the ammunition they needed.
Using the term “blowjob” has also set the product’s marketing apart, although Sloan admits he’s not sure if it has helped or hindered sales? “I realize it goes against the trend of using politically correct terms in order to make masturbation products mainstream. Lelo has obviously carved out a big niche in creating ‘pleasure products,’ but that’s not really my marketing forte. My style is to call a thing what it is. And the Autoblow 2 is a blowjob machine that gives men unlimited blowjobs [500 hours according to its website]. I think beating around the bush would be counterproductive to our marketing efforts."
It’s that kind of maverick thinking that’s keeping Sloan pumped for new business. He’s planning on launching a new Indiegogo campaign for a product that can be used by females and couples, called “Slaphappy” due out some time in November.