Each year, the market research institutes Millward Brown and Interbrand present a list of the most valuable brands in the world. Last year, the top two spots went to tech behemoths Apple and Google. Just reading these names will fill your heads with a number of associations. They are prime examples of brands. And brands make a promise. To be user-friendly, to be reliable, to be convenient. Or in some cases, simply to be less expensive than the competition. A brand is the sum total of the associations it evokes. But is that also the case in the adult market? Have the producers in this industry managed to achieve the necessary level of recognition among the public or at least among the target audience? Do the brands in this market deserve that name? Or should retailers focus on individual products instead of banking on brands?
The brands we are talking about here don’t just pop up like daisies. It is not enough to think of a cool logo, a catchy slogan, and then tell everyone that, yes, this is “the” new brand. I am talking about the type of brand whose name is a promise to the consumer – a promise the producer wants to keep whenever a consumer buys one of their products.
Such products are generally described as “brand products.” Top quality, a great image, and that “it factor” that makes it more desirable than other products in the mind of the consumers. Which, by the way, doesn’t mean that those other products are indeed inferior. Just that they are not part of a brand. Or of this brand. Going by this definition, there are more brands in the adult market than we could list in this article. So the problem lies somewhere else: Today, you’d have to seek out adult stores or read up on adult products online on a regular basis; otherwise, most of those brand names won’t stick. And even if you remember the name, it doesn’t really carry the connotations and associations that really make a brand.
The emphasis in the previous sentence is on “today”, however. As the oft-quoted social acceptance of sex toys and adult products in general is increasing, their popularity among the public grows. Put differently: Brands will become more important in the adult market as time goes on. This development is favoured by the fact that more and more consumers look for information on the internet before buying a product. And on the web, brands have a clear advantage over generic products. If you read great things about a brand on a blog and check out the well-designed company homepage, chances are you will go for the brand vibrator on your shopping spree, even if it has a slightly higher price tag. Mission accomplished, customer acquired.
The retail trade clearly stands to benefit from this development. Because if the brand makes good on its promise, the retailer knows that he is selling quality. And quality (hopefully) means that the customer will be happy with what he bought and will come back to that logo the next time he is looking for something to spice up his sex life.
And last but not least, there’s the matter of brand loyalty. It may have diminished a bit in recent years, but brand loyalty is still an important factor when the consumer makes his purchasing decision. If said consumer doesn’t find “his” brand in a store, he’ll be more inclined to leave and look someplace else. And thanks to the internet with its countless online shops, he doesn’t have to drive across town to do that, he just needs to sit down in front of his computer. Brands are like beacons in the ocean of products, and when in doubt, the consumer will use them to find his bearings on the way to making his purchase.
People have been making cases for and against the existence of real brands in the adult market for years. And who can really tell? As long as we don’t have well-founded market research results, the answer lies in the eye of the beholder. But even if there are real brands in this market, you can’t compare them to brands in the mainstream market – neither in terms of their reach, noe in terms of recognition value. There is no real brand profile because if you asked consumers in the street, they couldn’t tell the difference between products from brand A and products from brand B.
The associations a brand evokes among the consumers are just as important for its success as user-friendliness, quality, etc. Without such associations, without a recognisable brand image that actually sticks in people’s minds, it becomes extremely difficult to position a product line as a brand. Many people say that the adult market is a market like any other, but when it comes to brands, it simply isn’t. Let’s not forget what we are talking about here: products that serve an intimate purpose. Consumers have no problem showing everyone what kind of clothing brand they prefer because this brand is infused with a certain image. But when it comes to vibrators and dildos … not so much. Even if you have moments where there is some kind of public conversation about sex toys – for instance in an internet forum -, you can’t compare that to the impact that big mainstream brands have on our daily lives.
But of course, it doesn’t always have to be that way. Nobody says that the brand situation in the adult market can’t or won’t change in the future. And the retail trade can play an important role in this development. At the end of the day, it is they who tell their consumers about brand products and really sell them on the brand values. Of course, we have to stay realistic: The opportunities to advertise adult products are still very limited, and they won’t wondrously increase over night or even in the near future.
But if the products boast the right qualities and if the producers work with the trade when it comes to promotion and in-store advertising, it can work – and it already does in several cases. However, retailers who are willing to embrace ˈbrandsˈ also have a bitter pill to swallow: It will be much easier to compare their stores to others offering these brands. And chances are that consumers will find someone on the internet who is selling the same ˈbrandˈ at lower prices, lower than the brick and mortar trade could ever afford. So should the retailers give brand products wide berth and focus on no-name products and private brands instead? That is a decision retailers have to make for themselves. Maybe the brand situation in the market will be a very different one soon, maybe all the trade members and producers need is patience. Maybe, when all is said and done, we will have real brands in the adult market, with all the benefits that brings for the producers, the distributors, the retailers, and the consumers. Or maybe, just maybe, brands will continue to be a fringe phenomenon in the adult market.