Fifty Shades of Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey
A view from Karolina Drakic

Think BR: Fifty shades of opportunity

Brands are realising that sex is no longer a dirty word, writes Karolina Drakic, associate director, Ipsos Marketing.

Companies have been quick to capitalise on certain health trends and government advice. Nothing exemplifies this more than the ‘five a day’ mantra with multiple food and drink manufacturers claiming it on their packs alongside other dietary allowances.

In a glaring contrast to that, health benefits of sex are little known to the everyday consumers despite a number of scientific studies.

These benefits include lowering blood pressure, stress reduction, better sleep, pain alleviation and strengthening the immune system to name a few.

Any of these claims alone crystallises an opportunity to increase awareness and everyday demand for sex related products. However, trends and realities of our times make this sector even more favourable to enter. 

The normalisation of sex is a case in point. Consumers of today are more adventurous and keen to explore sex products in a non-contrived fashion.

They want to browse accessories naturally as opposed to making their way to seedy back street sex shops or staying limited to the internet.

Nothing epitomises this more than Ann Summers’ success in turning sex into a UK high street brand in the early noughties.

One of its most iconic best sellers is the Rampant Rabbit, a toy which became hugely popular after featuring in Sex and the City with sales of over two million units a year.

The rise of ‘mature materialism’ has also played an important part in this process as consumers are less-easily shocked and appreciate more daring and outspoken brands.

Durex has certainly influenced and capitalised on this as it changed its focus from safe sex to better sex since mid-2000.

Its redefinition included the modernisation of its core condom range with multiple sizes, textures and tastes; expansion of the Play category with toys, massagers and lubes; and a shift in tone of voice by using more consumer-centric language. The commercial result for Durex has been a success.  

In conjunction to that, a distribution revolution has been taking place as mainstream household retailers are stocking sex products in response to consumer demand.

Though not without opposition, the sale of sex toys recently launched in 1,200 of the 2,500 Boots UK stores and is a definite milestone in terms of access. 

Another reality which makes this market pertinent is the state of our economy. Protracted recession has made us rethink how we do our jobs, live our lives, spend our free time, manage personal finances and allocate budgets.

Some industries have been seriously hit while others have been thriving; for example discount stores, fast food chains, snack foods and, of course, tattoos and sex toys.

Global sales of vibrators and similar devices are soaring and set to rise to £40bn by 2020 - which would match that of smartphones.

Home 'enterstayment' and 'staycation' are growing trends as cash conscious consumers are spending more time in-house and getting under their sheets more often.

Investments such as lingerie and sex toys are perceived as more worthwhile than ephemeral costly night outs. 

Ultimately however, we are in a very different place than we were a decade ago. Sex has always sold but reach was limited to a very specific, often male section of the public.

Any revelations around sexual curiosity or activity would have caused extreme discomfort and stigmatisation. Today, women are reading the Fifty Shades trilogy on the tube and sharing their reactions openly as captured by John Carroll from Ipsos Media CT in his latest blog[7].

Fifty Shades of Grey has become the best-selling book in Britain surpassing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with sales of 5.3 million copies.

There is an insatiable desire for sex related but socially acceptable material and products.

This is not about promiscuity, perversion, debauchery or degradation. This is about healthy and safe sexual exploration for everyday people, jaded by the state of the nation and looking to escape.

Better sex means better quality of life and healthier lives.

Circumstances are favourable to widening appeal. Modern channels of communication such as social networks are likely to continue to play a key role as they provide a suitable forum for interchange of this nature.

Growing penetration and volume are real prospects to those already operating in this domain; by capturing new demographics, income groups (possibly seeking more affordable options) and by targeting untapped occasions.

Further, a number of players could access this market extrinsically, eg, health boosters, atmospheric gadgets, aphrodisiacs, beauty products, by making an ingenious connection to this theme.

Consumers are engaged, willing to talk and react to new ideas and we are ready to take a fresh look at this and use of imagination in order to help identifying winning innovation solutions.

Times have changed and thanks to EL James, bondage is not a dirty word anymore. 

Karolina Drakic, associate director, Ipsos Marketing