“What makes brands is history, values, experience, and image.”
1979 was an eventful year filled with historical events. One event is of particular importance for the erotic market: Marc Dorcel presented his first film, ‘Jolies petites garces’, and it was a smashing success. Many more successes were to follow, covering various media and market segments, and today, Marc Dorcel is one of the biggest names in the industry, a global company operating in various countries and in various segments of the erotic market. EAN and CEO Grégory Dorcel invite you to revisit the milestones in the history of Marc Dorcel – a story that begins in 1979 and that is far from over even in 2019 …
40 years is a long time – how would you sum up the history of Marc Dorcel so far? What are the milestones that have defined the company throughout the years?
Grégory Dorcel: Important steps always turned into innovation and supported developments in society:
- 1979: First European movie shot on video
- 1995: First French interactive adult CD-ROM
- 1998: First French multilingual DVD
- 2002: First Video on Demand service (VOD) in France: Dorcelvision.com
- 2006: Creation of pan-European channel Dorcel TV
- 2006: First French sexy concept store open to all audiences
- 2010: First adult crowdfunding operation with the production of ‘Mademoiselle de Paris’
- 2011: First European SVOD platform to offer 3D content
- 2011: First legal 3D download offer
- 2012: First VOD offer dedicated to women: Dorcelle.com
- 2014: First unlimited adult streaming offer – www.xillimite.com
- 2015: First production of 360° 3D virtual reality content
- 2017: Creation of Dorcel Lab, the first incubator for sexy start-ups
- 2018: Takeover of Playboy TV Europe
Is there a philosophy or guideline that has accompanied Marc Dorcel through these 40 years?
Quality! As an artisan, Dorcel was always committed to delivering a quality experience to his customers. Just because it’s porn or dedicated to sex does not mean that it has to be vulgar or low quality.
What made your father decide to seek his fortune in the erotic film industry 40 years ago?
Young Marc Dorcel wanted to study Art Deco: be it pottery, watercolours or paintings, he had a special gift for arts. Unfortunately, our budding artist did not follow up on this path, his parents being against him embracing such a risky career. He took his first steps in life working in a sewing machine company as an industrial designer and was soon promoted to the technical and commercial department. After serving in the military for 26 months, he went back to his work at the sewing company.
Although he made a good living, Marc was always looking for more; his friends had their own apartments and nice cars and Marc was getting increasingly ambitious. He wanted to have a business of his own. And then, he met somebody who stirred up his whole life. At that time, his parents owned a house in Seine-et-Marne. Right next to them lived the owner of a public works truck company who made up to 500 francs a day for transporting goods between different construction sites. That seemed an easy job to Marc, and he had the idea of buying 15-ton trucks, hiring drivers, and setting up his own transport company.
So, in 1965, with the financial help of his parents, Marc Dorcel launched his own business: ‘Transports Dorcel.’ But a rather buoyant beginning was followed by a bumpy patch: Mechanical problems soon caused a great number of trucks to be stuck in the car repair shop most of the time and the company started to operate at a loss. This nightmare lasted for over a year and then, a fed-up Marc Dorcel decided to give it all up and moved to an apartment on Place des Vosges. It is not far from there that one day, he would have another chance encounter which would prove to be crucial to him.
Every day, he used to pass by a man who spent his time opening dozens and dozens of envelopes with checks inside. Marc Dorcel soon made friends with him and discovered that he earned a living selling erotic literature by direct mail throughout the region. As Marc Dorcel remembered: ‘He was just lolling around in a meadow, did nothing all day except go to his PO box to get his mail, and nonetheless, he lived reasonably well!’
In 1968, Marc decided to take up a new adventure: publishing erotic writings. With two friends, he founded ‘Select Diffusion’ to sell books with titillating titles through advertising. Debts had forced Marc to let go of his transport company, but he hoped that direct-mail sales would turn out a growing success. Actually, the launch of this new business scared off many of Marc’s existing business partners since revenues rarely exceeded five to six pounds a day. Moreover, one of his partners split off in an attempt to avoid what he felt was a company doomed to fail Only Alain P. stuck around who was a staunch believer in the venture.
Time would prove him to be right. Somewhere down the line, Marc came across a talented Swiss journalist Pietr Bauer, who was impressed by Marc Dorcel’ s already existing radiance and felt he was dealing with an important publisher. Readily, he gave him the publishing rights for a remarkable erotic novel: ‘Ursula’. Paired with the writer’s literary talent and a cleverly prepared book launch, the novel quickly became a best-seller in the region: Over 20,000 books sold in less than three months! This is the beginning of Marc Dorcel’s success as he struck gold for the first time. Soon after, the Youth Commission took action to ban the material so minors wouldn’t have access to it, and it was banned from being exhibited and advertised in any way. This was a clear condemnation of the book.
Repeated summons to the seventeenth correctional chamber and the corresponding convictions for breach of moral standards could not scare Marc Dorcel, however. On the contrary, it drove him to create a new publishing company: ‘Select Diffusion’ thus became ‘SDC’ (simply, ‘Selection Diffusion Contact’). But at the beginning of the seventies, the craze for erotic novels started to fade: The audience was in need of images.
Far from living off of his reputation and current achievements, Marc Dorcel considered diversification. Erotic photo stories were already on the market, mainly in the form of imported American magazines with ‘retouched’ pictures (genitals and pubic hair were hidden under grossly drawn underwear), for which people would spend up to 120 or 140 francs (quite a bit of money at that time!). Marc Dorcel then decided to launch the first full-colour erotic photo story on the French market. A truly genuine revolution! The typical ‘Dorcelian’ style was already clearly identifiable on these pages: superb young posh women wearing stylish, enticing underwear. Once more, he had achieved a great success! But censorship, along with with a devastating tax controls, put an end to what could have been an endless gold-mine. Marc Dorcel was back to square one.
Far from giving up, he plunged back into the photo story adventure just a few months later. Business went great, and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s ascent to power in 1974 brought about changes that would soften censorship rules. Marc set up a new company, ‘Éditions Pierre-Yvon’ and moved into new premises on ‘Rue de Sèvres’. He shared the court in front of the building with two video recorder repair engineers.
Dazzled by their neighbours’ high-quality publishing, they soon talked Marc Dorcel into transcribing all those glossy, paper-printed materials onto videos, thus giving birth to ‘Vidéo Marc Dorcel’. The very first X movie produced and directed by Marc Dorcel was ‘Jolies petites garces’ (Pretty Little Bitches). It was 1979. Credits for this 53-minute video included a certain Maryline Jess, future ‘Dorcelian’ muse, and a young man called Stanislas Piotr at the beginning of a brilliant career. By the way, to celebrate his 100th production, Marc Dorcel re-published this little jewel, to the great delight of many collectors. Today, his opinion about ‘Jolies petites garces’ is unsentimental: ‘This movie’s technical defects mark its very genuineness.
The ingenuousness of some of the situations make it even more moving’. Nevertheless, in 1979, this was the spark that lit the fire: Very quickly, over 4,000 tapes of ‘Jolies petites garces’ were sold to sex-shops for 500 francs a piece: Profits were simply enormous. This craze can be explained by the historical context: A law had just been approved regarding X movies. Up until then, they had been released in regular movie theatres but as from now, they would be restricted to special projection rooms. This law greatly enhanced the X video boom!
And while the screenplay of ‘Jolies petites garces’ may seem rather sparse when you apply today’s standards, Marc added all those photo story ingredients that made for an explosive mixture in his movie: finely-crafted sets, appealing actors and actresses, and excessive use of lingerie were all blended into a refined vision of eroticism, cleverly balanced with hardcore scenes… Marc Dorcel himself was surprised by the audience’s broad acceptance. This did not keep him from continuing to build a whole video collection, however.
He produced and directed two more movies, ‘Les mauvaises rencontres’ (Bad Encounters) and ‘Orgie extra conjugal’ (Extramarital Orgy). This was the time when Marc Dorcel decided to move away from photo stories and dedicate his time exclusively to film production. He hired Michel Barny, a gifted movie maker with whom he would make over fifteen movies. Together, they worked relentlessly: Screenplays became more sophisticated and sets were carefully chosen and always luxurious… resulting in ‘Tendre Corinne’ (Loving Corinna), ‘Ma cousine de Paris’ (My Cousin From Paris), ‘Hôtel Bon Plaisir’ (Good Pleasure Hotel… directed by Michel Barny), and ‘Julie la douce’ (Sweet Julie), ‘Les culottes de Charlotte’ (Charlotte’s knickers), ‘Belles de rêves’ (Dream Girls… directed by J. Helbie).
When people talk about the history of the erotic film industry, you often hear terms like ‘the golden age’ or statements like ‘in the past everything was easier and better.’ How much truth is there to this sentiment?
This is partially true – for any business. In the past, competition was local and not worldwide and after WWII, the occidental world was in a full flow of development. At the same time, a company dedicated to sex couldn’t run 5 TV channels 40 years ago, nor could it deliver content and goods all over the globe thanks worldwide communication. The internet, social networks, and digitalisation have opened up so many new opportunities…
Company anniversaries are a great opportunity to ask about the formula that has led to this lasting success. So, what is Marc Dorcel’s lasting success based on? Is the diversification strategy the crux of the matter? The willingness to embrace new technologies, maybe?
Firstly, our success is based on satisfying our customers, and we have been doing that for 40 years now. It also has to do with the quality and innovation we deliver, no matter what project we are working on. Those are the two major values in which we trust, and which we are dedicated to. Moreover, diversification is important at Dorcel – from production to licensing and distribution, from TV channels to VOD, from platform management to publishing, from retail to e-commerce to mail order, from novelties to events … from Europe to America to Asia to Africa.
There is only a handful of well-known brands in our market, and Marc Dorcel ranks among them. What makes Marc Dorcel a brand? What is the message of the Marc Dorcel brand? And what expectations do consumers have of the Marc Dorcel brand?
What makes brands is history, values, experience, and image. Marc Dorcel has these assets, with a 40 years history, values, and a style that is different from all the other ones. The Dorcel message is one of freedom and pleasure! Whether it’s a sexual product or service, you should be able to enjoy it without being ashamed; these products and services can be elegant and sophisticated and quality-oriented. Customers expect quality and sophistication from Dorcel, with products and services that are accessible to anybody – man, woman, couples.
The example of Beate Uhse has shown that even well-known and long-established brands can become a case for history books. What lessons can be learned from this example, and what does it say about branding?
On one hand, brands have to stick to their values and style in the long term – stability and constancy are vital. But on the other hand, brands have also to evaluate and adapt to a changing world in order to anticipate where society is going.
Many companies in the erotic industry have failed to make the leap into the digital age. How did Marc Dorcel manage to successfully adjust your activities to the internet?
No matter the media or the technology, the basis has to stay the same. With 40 years under our belt, we have seen so many new technologies, new marketing tools… that helps us understand that there is no be all and end all. All the technologies, the media, etc. we are using will eventually disappear and be replaced by something else. Moreover, the Dorcel team is dedicated to innovation and open to any new opportunities. We are excited by anything new which can help improve the quality of the customer experience. Therefore, we try to stay agile and adapt to any new technologies.
Be it VOD, 3D, apps or virtual reality – Marc Dorcel has always been one of the pioneers when it comes to new technologies. Where does this commitment come from to always be at the forefront of technological developments, and how much effort does the company put into it?
Our most important concern is the quality of the experience our customers have. We regard new tech as a medium to achieve our goal, and we want to use any new tech which can optimise the quality of the customer experience. Consequently, we are always keeping an eye on technological developments, and our teal is organised to be able to test and adopt any new opportunities whenever they arise. But tech just for tech’s sake, that is not interesting for us. We only consider new tech when it brings an added value to our customer experience.
In line with your diversification strategy, Marc Dorcel launched its own Sex Toys in 2010. Around that time, many companies in the DVD market wanted to gain a foothold in the toy market, and while most of them failed, Marc Dorcel was successful. What is your explanation for this success?
We apply the same values and strategies to our toys that we apply to the content we produce. Quality-oriented sophistication, elegant yet explicit. Obviously, the Marcel touch is popular worldwide.
Was this move into the sex toy business also necessary because the target audience of the erotic market was changing, with women and couples taking centre stage?
As soon as sex toys and shops became less vulgar, less hardcore, it gave a new audience access to these products. Female pleasure, sexual wellbeing, etc. are more and more accepted and important … Products and shops (online as well as offline) have to adapt to the needs of customers with new standards and new expectations. At Dorcel, we consider ourselves lucky because we are very couple-friendly, so we are positioning perfectly to cater to this large audience. We believe that our offer has only become more attractive following these changes and developments in society.
Today, trends like sexual wellness and sexual health dominate the market for sex toys. How do they influence product development at Marc Dorcel?
From the beginning, Marc Dorcel toys have been dedicated to wellness and sexual pleasure for a large audience. Moreover, we have always tried to be very selective with our toy releases and to deliver only products which offer an added value and good performance in terms of sexual pleasure – products which are accessible and well-accepted by a large audience. Being kinky and efficient but always elegant, that is our style, and it won’t change in the future, no matter the changes in the industry.
In an interview with EAN in 2012, you said that sex toys accounted for around 6% of your company’s total sales. What does that figure look like today? Are sex toys the big sales driver for you today?
The distribution of toys and novelties now represents approx. 30% of our sales, and that figure should multiply by a factor of 2 in the next three years. During that same period of time, we expect our media sales to increase by 20 to 30%.
A few years earlier, in 2006, Marc Dorcel opened the company’s first brick and mortar store in Lanester, Brittany, which was quite the sensation due to its modern, open, inviting and clean atmosphere. Would you say that Marc Dorcel was a pioneer in the erotic retail trade?
Let’s say we developed a new concept in France that reflected our specific cultural and societal needs. Our shop concept is welcoming to any segment of the public, it is as appealing to women as it is to men and couples. We show that we are sex specialists, we provide great expertise, and we take our customers on an elegant journey to show them that there is nothing to be ashamed of when you visit this kind of store.
How many shops does Marc Dorcel run today and how has your retail concept changed since 2006? What are the unique selling points of your stores today?
On the top of our e-commerce website, we just have finished the paperwork for the 10th Dorcelstore which will be open by end of 2019. We want to double that number in the next three years, going up to 20 stores. The unique selling point is that these stores are made for couples, mixing expertise, fun, and elegance
How has the customer base in your stores changed over the years? How willing are the French today to enter an adult store?
Women are more and more comfortable with visiting our stores, and customers have a much clearer idea of what they want. They know their pleasures and needs much better than customers did 10 years ago, and women assume to becoming more and more kinky. They feel very comfortable in our stores. Now, even institutions and administrations have to adjust and become more liberal with respect to the erotic industry. They have to accept that there is nothing illegal about selling erotic products.
What role do the bricks & mortar stores play for the Marc Dorcel brand and the brand’s message?
Physical stores are a very powerful tool if you want to establish a brand and reinforce public recognition. Moreover, it helps the brand to be tangible. It definitely helps our customers and potential future customers to feel the Dorcel Experience.
Competition from the Internet is too great, the brick and mortar trade has no future … What is Marc Dorcel’s response to such statements and what plans does the company have in this business sector?
Brick and mortar shops will not disappear. So far, e-commerce is still representing less than 20% of the global retail volume, so most of the business is still in stores, and hundreds of stores are opening each day worldwide. The question is: Given the selling points of e-commerce, why should a customer visit my store? Everybody has to find an answer to that question. We have ours, and we are working very hard to implement it.
In 2029, Marc Dorcel will celebrate its 50th birthday. Let’s play Nostradamus: How will the company be positioned then, and what challenges will Marc Dorcel have to face ten years from now?
Marc Dorcel will be one of the most important partners for everybody who wants to to enjoy and spice up their sex life. Marc Dorcel will be one of the most important partners of every distributor of adult content and adult products. Marc Dorcel will still abide by the same core principles – high-class, couples-oriented, generous, artful, and expertly made.
Suppose Hollywood were to turn the inspiring history of Marc Dorcel into a movie: Which actors should portray you and your father?
Well, I have asked around among the members of the team, and they feel that my father, Marc Dorcel, should be portrayed by Pierce Brosnan. And as for myself: Going by my colleagues, I should be played by Matt Damon.