Love, lust and luxury

In his monthly column, Brian Gray from Glasgow-based erotic marketing agency Lascivious Marketing offers his thoughts on all things marketing. This month he’s considering the luxury pleasure products segment within the erotic trade industry.

At the beginning of this year, the Apparel, Fashion and Luxury Group of global management consultancy McKinsey & Co. published a report titled “The Age of Digital Darwinism.” Similarly, another titan of the business services world, Deloitte, published their “Global Powers of Luxury Goods 2018”. Both make interesting reading on their own merit.

But it got me thinking. To what extent is the adult pleasure products sector – or even the wider business of love and lust – populated by luxury brands, compared with other industries, at least from a perception and recall perspective? Think of luxury brands in a number of industries – automobiles, fashion, fragrances, beauty products, homeware, and consumer electronics, for example. You’d have no difficulty recalling a handful in each without hesitation. Moreover, awareness of premium brands is present across all socio-economic groups, regardless of ability to pay.

But how would adult pleasure products perform in a similar test? Even though sex toy ownership levels are notable among Western European populations, can a similar number of genuinely high-end brands be found, let alone recalled, by users?

Furthermore, to what extent are sex toy and pleasure product brands perceived to be in the luxury segment providing a comparable marketing, communications, and engagement experience to the Guccis, Bang & Olufsens, Jaguars, Jimmy Choos, and Giorgio Armanis in other premium sectors?

The reality is that what genuine ‘luxury’ sex toy brands do exist they generally – with some exceptions – are relatively small in size, use unique materials, or differentiate themselves in other ways their customers recognise and appreciate them for. In addition, due to cultural and media sensitivity through the decades they haven’t been afforded the same opportunities for advertising and PR exposure as their less sexy footwear, automotive, or fashion counterparts. The irony (not lost on many, I’m sure) is that major luxury brands have for decades routinely employed sex as a key weapon in their visual campaigns.

So let’s not fool ourselves here. Premium pleasure product brands will not be afforded quite the same latitude or opportunities as our ‘civilian’ counterparts in the mainstream. I know, I know: they don’t realise what they’re missing out on!

But that doesn’t mean that standards, professionalism and marketing efforts should be consequently afforded any slack or viewed differently. Should an affluent consumer looking for a high end sex toy be forced to make allowances in terms of purchase experience (pre-, post- and actual) purely because they’re buying pleasure products rather than perfume? Dream on. High-end consumers desiring high-end products seek a high-end purchase experience – even when online.

Remember: for luxury consumers, it’s all about the (s)experience, Baby. What can an artisan, bespoke luxury brand offer that cheaper, mass produced items can’t? Heritage, ‘breeding’, if you like. A story. Something unique and intangible that’s more than just the finished product in a consumer’s hands.

Also think about the environment you’re trying to sell luxury pleasure products in. If you’re a bricks and mortar boutique or store, think about the décor of your establishment. Does it immediately convey an affluent, sophisticated luxury vibe or is it a rather tawdry affair? You can’t expect upmarket consumers to enter a cheap looking store and buy the most expensive items, if everything from the lighting, the walls, flooring and point-of-sale materials are all tatty and have seen better days. Every aspect of that luxury product purchase experience has got to be in line with buyer expectations.

Coco de Mer in London is not a huge store by anyone’s reckoning. But rather than filling the shop floor full of products and thus leaving hardly any space to comfortably peruse their wares, they have instead concentrated on aesthetics and atmosphere which has created a genuinely evocative environment that oozes class.

The notion of space is vital vis-à-vis luxury marketing and selling. Whether talking about store interiors or advertising, there’s got to be room to B-R-E-A-T-H-E. Next time you see a print ad for Tiffany jewellery, see how much of the ad space is just that – space. Margins are wide and the separation between brand name, attention-grabbing title, sub-heading and body text is all consistently generous. It’s a similar story with imagery, whether it’s appearing on your website, your print ads, or your social media.

And while I’m on the subject of imagery, it’s not only got to have the requisite sense of space, it’s got to look the part in other respects. Do not scrimp when it comes to product or location imagery. Amateur-looking photography can at best cause confusion among target audiences and at worse ruin brand credentials in no time. A model that’s badly made up or a photo that’s terribly composed and even more awfully lit will leave your brand building efforts in tatters, no matter how good the intentions were behind it.

Does Aston Martin showcase its latest model by having it placed in front of a lock-up garage in a grimy industrial estate on an overcast day and photographed using a disposable 35mm plastic camera bought from a nearby pharmacist? Of course not. If you’re selling luxury goods, you’ll be creating equally opulent imagery that looks the part and conveys those all-too-important brand values. End of.

In conclusion, it’s important to both play to your strengths as a luxury sex toy seller or manufacturer, and within the parameters currently imposed. If you’re a sole trader or micro-/small- business don’t try to directly compete with the big boys and girls at their own game. If you don’t have the budget to indulge in glossy brand building and reinforcement communications campaigns, don’t bother trying. You’ll bankrupt yourself in no time at all.

Instead, focus on generating great content and visual marketing and leveraging social media accordingly. Think about cost effective PR and influencer marketing. And by influencer marketing I mean face-to-face get-togethers of close friends, and NOT the highly questionable online social media shenanigans where fake followers and even more sketchy metrics are sadly prevalent. In contrast, think of the ‘ladies who lunch’ at their swanky health clubs. All it takes is one rather risqué conversation led by someone who’s very happy with your wares and two hours later your luxury brand or store could be on the top of everyone’s minds.

If you’re selling luxury, think luxury, at each and every customer touchpoint. And if any one of these falls short in conveying – and reinforcing – the premium positioning and brand values, fix it. Quickly.

Brian can be contacted at, found on Instagram @lasciviousmarketing or phoned on +44 (0)141 255 0769.