The sequel to the movie adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey will arrive in theatres in time for Valentine’s Day 2017, and Fifty Shades Darker, as the second film is called, will certainly create a lot of hoopla in the media. The conclusion to the trilogy is already scheduled for the spring of 2018, so we’ll be seeing a lot more of Anastasia and Christian throughout the next couple of years. But do pop culture phenomena like Fifty Shades really have a big impact on the adult market? Opinions in the industry – and at EAN – are divided.
The adult market it not an island. Trends in design and technology have a great effect on the products that fill the shelves of adult retailers, and the consumers’ expectations change over time. As do certain phenomena that have a clear, direct impact on the adult market. In the past few years, Fifty Shades of Grey was the latest craze. I guess I don’t have to regurgitate the incredible success story of the SM romance, nor do I have to point out how it changed the public perception of sex toys. A thousand people have already discussed it, so I won’t repeat what you already know. But now, five years after the first book in the trilogy was released, and one year after the movie adaptation hit theatres, it may be time to ask: What will remain when all is said and done?
Fifty Shades has become a successful brand in the adult market, and I am not just talking about the official collection here, but also about all the other products and product lines that are inspired by the aesthetics of the books. A great many people have opened up to the world of sex toys because of these books, and others have added new toys and accessories to their collection in the wake of the Fifty Shades craze. But pop culture phenomena are unpredictable; not only do they pop up out of nowhere – they can also evaporate just as quickly. And for many people out there, Fifty Shades is already snows of yesteryear, past tense, as topical as the first moon landing. Put differently: The hype has died down among the general public. There are other trends that are more stable and enduring. The design of adult products is ever evolving, the consumers become more demanding, and new technologies – VR, apps, teledildonics – that have an impact on our lives inside and also outside the world of adult products, create new challenges for designers and developers. This is where you find the trends that shape the market for years to come, and not just the market, but also society.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to introduce the mainstream public to a new form of sexual pleasure. But for that to happen, there has to be a pre-existing open-mindedness in society, the proverbial envelope that can then be pushed by the pop culture phenomenon. Said open-mindedness is the engine, the driving force of this industry. What I am trying to say is: The adult market wouldn’t have developed all that differently had Fifty Shades never been written.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not implying that the industry should put on blinders and ignore all the pop culture sensations happening to left and right. When the second Fifty Shades film is released next year, it will once again inspire many new customers to visit an adult store or buy a sex toy online, and of course, the market should prepare for that and cater to that demand. But there is no telling if more of these phenomena will emerge in the upcoming years. We can’t rely on that. Therefore, the general course of the industry must be set by developments within the industry itself: new, innovative products, new ways of catering to consumer wishes, and the untiring effort to create more acceptance and tolerance for sexuality and the adult market.
Could there be anything better for our market than having products pushed into the consumers’ perception through mainstream phenomena? Maybe some of you remember how the popularity of rabbit vibrators skyrocketed following the escapades of Carrie Bradshaw, Samantha Jones, Charlotte York, and Miranda Hubbes, the protagonists of the US hit show ‘Sex and the City’. No one can deny that the rabbit’s status as a classic of the adult market is owed at least in part to this TV show.
Then, of course, there was – and still is – Fifty Shades of Grey, first, the trilogy of novels, now the movie adaptations, complete with a well-oiled merchandising machine behind them. The Fifty Shades phenomenon will definitely go down in the annals of the adult industry because it made possible what had never really been achieved before: bringing together mainstream and adult markets. The success of the books, the movies, the official Fifty Shades adult products, and the media craze surrounding all of that are proof that Fifty Shades has struck a nerve with people all over the world. In the wake of this pop phenomenon, many consumers have begun opening up to SM or bondage or similar practices. Fifty Shades has motivated thousands upon thousands to look for new sexual adventures and experiment with ways to achieve satisfaction. People are feeling more free to live out any sexual desire that pleases them.
But this is not just about certain sexual techniques, not just about individual products. It is about sexuality as a whole, and the adult market as a whole. This type of pop culture phenomenon, be it caused by TV shows, films, books, or the internet, makes people more accepting of topics such as sex, eroticism, etc. – and not just for themselves or in the virtual space of the world wide web, but also within their social sphere and within society as a whole.
This results in the most wonderful thing: an open approach to a subject that was stricken with taboos in the past. And it is quite obvious that this development is important for the adult market in the long run, not just in those few months following the release of the latest Fifty Shades film when people rush into the stores looking for the products they saw on the big screen. Of course, skeptical eyes will always find something to find fault with, and yes, trends come and go, and sometimes, they don’t come back for several years and the adult industry has to endure a dry spell. It is also apparent that some members of the trade and industry benefit more from these afore-mentioned phenomena while others are not affected to the same degree. But there is no magical, perfect panacea that makes everybody happy. Unless maybe in a book or a movie.