One side effect accompanying the increasing acceptance of adult products is that more and more big, wide-reaching brands get involved in the sex toy market. For an example, look no further than the recent collaboration of Pornhub and Ann Summers. Obviously, this is still a very new phenomenon, but one question it will ultimately raise is whether quality and innovation are left by the wayside. Often, it is small companies that develop never-before-seen ideas through experimentation and unconventional approaches. So far, the structures of the market have enabled these companies to secure a spot in the assortment of wholesalers and retailers. But could that change? Could the reach of a big name become more important than innovation?
To get an idea of the diversity and variety of the product range in the adult market, just compare the catalogues and websites of the various producers. There are lots of different products, but most producers and distributors offer the same concepts and ideas. We have already discussed the discrepancy between truly new product ideas and “me too” toys in the context of this column. More than once, actually.
What’s more, while the consumers are becoming more aware of – and interested in – adult products, only few of them really have a grasp of the range and product variety in the market. The average consumers, from college students to senior citizens, will be able to tell a dildo apart from a vibrator, but that’s pretty much the whole extent of it.
If you look at these two arguments side by side, it is easy to see why expanding your reach is becoming more and more important. Broadly speaking: If few people know your product, few people will buy your product. Sure, this problem is not limited to the adult industry, but I feel that we have reached a turning point in this market. While adult brands attempt to claw their way into the public consciousness, there are also brands that go the opposite route. They use established brands and wide-reaching platforms as a vehicle for their products. The Fifty Shades of Grey collection has certainly been the biggest milestone in that regard, but sex toy collections that launch under the banners of PornHub or Cosmopolitan also demonstrate the popularity of this strategy.
This approach can cause problems for smaller producers. For instance, what if they have the better and more innovative products, but no one really takes notice because these big brands and crossover collections are hogging all the public attention? The market would still grow, sure, but this growth would be limited to the big players, while the new and innovative ideas only reach the connoisseurs and aficionados (and if they do become successful, there’s already a big company waiting to present their version and bag all the sales.) One other thing you might want to consider: Few consumers actually have a big stash of sex toys. Most people get one or two, and if they go for the big brand with the great range and the big marketing budget, that’s all they will be using for a while.
Of course, this (potential) development also holds an opportunity: These products can serve as a springboard. They introduce people to the world of sex toys, and when they go kaput or get boring, it may well be that the consumers venture down a bit deeper into the rabbit hole when shopping for their next toys. That could be the hour of the smaller, newer, more innovative producers. Provided people actually find them.
No question, reach and brand awareness will only become more important in the market for adult products. Brands have a big effect on the consumers’ purchasing decision when they set out to buy, say, a vibrator. Much more so than was the case a few years ago. That said, our market still offers lots of opportunities for smaller companies and innovative product ideas to carve out a niche of their own. If you look back at the history of the adult market, you will find numerous examples of this; small companies that had a bright idea and really managed to establish it in the marketplace – and many of them would be lauded as brands today. Will this “permeability”, the upward mobility in the market – the opportunity to rise to the top with the right idea – change anytime soon? Not likely. The market needs innovations because that is what the consumers demand, and whether they get it from tiny two-man enterprises or a mega corporation doesn’t really matter in that context. Many companies that started out small and stunned the market with an innovative idea, have grown into big players. Just think of We-Vibe. And Hot Octopuss, while not being the biggest company when it comes to its actual size, has also risen to the top of the industry. The reason for their success is easy enough to discern: innovation. What these companies managed to do is expand their reach by making a name for themselves as a brand or as inventors in a new product category. Applying that strategy, small companies can be just as successful as big ones. Size doesn’t always play a role, but know-how certainly does. However,g one element we mustn’t forget when opening this can of worms is distribution. And when it comes to distribution, size kind of does matter. The aforementioned collaboration of Pornhub and Ann Summers makes sense because the British retail chain has extensive knowledge when it comes to distribution in b2c markets and in the b2b realm. And Lovehoney have a wide, effective, and successful distribution network to fall back on with their big licensing deals, resulting in collections for brands such as Motörhead, tokidoki, and, obviously, Fifty Shades of Grey. If you look back, you will probably also find many examples of great innovations and ideas that withered on the vine because they did not reach the necessary level of market penetration. Reversely, even the biggest brands can fail, in spite of having the widest reach, the most extensive distribution network, the greatest marketing campaigns – heck, even if they have a convincing product on their hands. Does anybody remember the Philips vibrator from 200? Yeah, thought so.