The joys of sex

With fewer taboos around the marketing of sex and sexuality and more people enjoying the pleasures of recession-busting nights in, Emily Gosling looks at the brands that are waking up to the fact that sex sells

Last week Ann Summers revealed it is in the process of a brand overhaul, with Fitch working on a new retail concept and Elmwood looking at new sex toy packaging, set to launch in the autumn and including the brand’s iconic Rampant Rabbit range.

Ann Summers is not the only brand to have realised that in times of recession and with changing attitudes towards expressions of sexuality sex sells. Last month Dragon’s Den star Theo Paphitis set up his lingerie venture, Boux Avenue, while Bravissimo, the specialist lingerie outlet for the bigger breasted woman, launched its new website.

Ann Summers began working with retail consultancy 20/20 in early 2010 to create brand guidelines on tone of voice and visual language.

Bernard Dooling, 20/20 co-founder, says, ’In this age of austerity, to have a great night in enjoying your sexuality doesn’t cost you a lot of money.’ He adds, ’The threshold of acceptability has become totally different we’re exposed to [sexuality] in a much more everyday way.’

Elliot Wilson, Elmwood London managing director, agrees that fewer taboos surrounding sex products, coupled with recession-beating nights in, have increased the sector’s popularity.

’We’re looking for antidotes to the hard times we live in,’ Wilson says.

’People are looking for affordable luxuries and being more adventurous at home there’s a general desire to be playful.’

However, the recession equally forces all retailers into fiercer competition. Dooling says, ’In this climate there are two retailers the quick and the dead, and Ann Summers is staying on the front foot.

’Fiona Davis, Ann Summers’ marketing director, says of the brand overhaul, ’It’s true to our heritage and values, but expressing that in our visual language.
’It’s all about contemporary glamour and real sexiness, but with a touch of intelligent wit we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Our purpose is “fearlessly unleashing sexual confidence”.’

The threshold of acceptability has become totally different -we’re exposed to [sexuality] in a much more everyday way

Bernard Dooling, 20/20

Wilson says, ’Over the past few years there’s been a massive increase in the sales of sex toys, so they were interested in looking at segmenting it better and making the packaging more clear a general clean-up job needed to be done.

’For years there’s just been iterations of designs slightly tweaked there’s never been a consistent look and feel.’

He adds, ’[Previously] it had all been very tongue in cheek and not very sophisticated. Ann Summers had to reclaim its brand. It first introduced the Rampant Rabbit, so there’s a general drive to lift its game from a design perspective.

’We needed to give the Rampant Rabbit a sense of identity before, its story was hidden.’

Lucy Unger, Fitch managing director for Europe and Russia, is working on the Ann Summers retail concept, which will pilot in the Westfield Stratford store in September.

She says, ’As a brand it is gaining significant momentum. Ann Summers is very intent on translating what’s at the heart of its brand into a relevant retail experience. It’s about bringing what’s unique and ownable about the brand.’

Bravissimo last month relaunched its website, with design by Paul Lewis Design. Consultancy founder Paul Lewis says, ’The lingerie sector has been going from strength to strength. People want that feel-good factor.’

Lewis draws a contrast with the work at Ann Summers, saying that the primary concern in site design for Bravissimo was creating a ’comfortable’ look and feel. He says, ’It has to feel feminine, fun, sexy and approachable it’s not like Agent Provocateur, which is selling sex. It’s more about feeling good about yourself.’

Meanwhile, the design concepts for Paphitis’ Boux Avenue lingerie brand, with Dragon Rouge helping validate the initial proposition, a website created by Capablue, interiors by Ink, and branding by Ink and Detail Creative, are based around the concept of classic glamour.

Stephen Wickstead, senior Web designer at Capablue, says, ’We had to come up with something that was beautiful, but also glamourous, spectacular, splendid and lavish.’ He adds, ’We went for something quite classic. We opted for black and white with pink flourishes, to make it something women could relate to.’

Craig Chuter, head of business development at Capablue, adds, ’With all that’s going on in the world people like to feel nice and treat themselves. Everything around the styling of the site and the stores focuses on making it as stylish and high quality as possible.’

Luke Carrington, creative director of Ink, says the most important consideration in creating a retail concept for Boux Avenue was comfort. The stores’ fitting rooms feature carpeted floors and adjustable lighting, with an intercom system connected to the front desk to request assistance or alternative sizes.

Carrington says, ’We wanted classic, timeless interiors so we used shades and textures of white with black detailing, with Art Deco inspiration. It’s quite a neutral palette to showcase the product.’

While lingerie brands ultimately aim to sell underwear, they share a desire to sell more than simply their products.

While Davis says Ann Summers does not sell ’sex toys and toys and lingerie, but orgasms’, Jo Lee, Bravissimo marketing director, adds, ’You’re selling bras, but at the end of the day, you’re selling the way you feel.’

Designer sex toys

  • Elmwood’s Elliot Wilson feels more sophisticated product design has catalysed sex toys’ popularity. He says, ’There’s a move away from looking like veiny penises into designer objects’
  • In January, Lebanon-based designer Marc Dibeh created Love the Bird, a bedside lamp with an integrated sex toy, aiming to escape the problem of countries banning sex toy sales
  • Also in January, the Made to Pleasure website launched. Customers can customise sex toys by altering size and shape
  • In September 2010, Yves BŽhar designed waterproof sex toy Form 3 for Jimmy Jane
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