Female-Arousal Market Heats Up

Zestra Puts $10 Million Behind Sex Fluid Product; K-Y to Unveil Tingling Liquid

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CINCINNATI (AdAge.com) -- The female-arousal market is about to become much hotter.
A $10 million national ad campaign for Zestra Female Arousal Fluid launches in May.
A $10 million national ad campaign for Zestra Female Arousal Fluid launches in May.
Zestra vs. K-Y
Zestra Female Arousal Fluid, a small entrepreneurial brand with surprisingly serious clinical research, is preparing to launch a $10 million national ad campaign in May that it says will reach 90 million women.

Meanwhile, K-Y, which has quadrupled sales the past three years with souped-up sex oils, isn't about to be outdone. K-Y is preparing to launch a tingling version of its wildly popular Warming Liquid as it looks to continue defying gravity and the staid reputation of its owner, consumer-products and pharma giant Johnson & Johnson.

Female arousal market
Both are trying to do with over-the-counter products what drug companies have tried in vain so far to do with prescription drugs -- develop a female version of Pfizer's Viagra and its competitive ilk, which have formed a $2 billion male-arousal industry.

Three years after its initial application, Procter & Gamble Co.'s Intrinsa sex patch for post-menopausal women remains in extended clinical trials ordered by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA wants more proof that the patches, which pump controlled doses of testosterone into women to help get them aroused, won't have negative long-term effects. Rival German drug maker Boehringer Ingelheim hopes to apply for FDA approval by 2009 for Flibanserin, a Viagra-like pill for women.

However, Zestra Laboratories CEO Younis Zubchevich believes none of the pharma solutions will get approval for at least three years and possibly not for another five.

Botanical lotion
Zestra never needed clinical trials because it could be marketed as a botanical lotion without them -- still, Mr. Zubchevich believes it needs testing to establish credibility.

Early research, published in 2003 in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, indicated Zestra does indeed arouse more women than a "placebo" oil. And the company recently enrolled 200 more women for a second round of clinical research (no word on how many men volunteered to help).

"We increase sensation within three to five minutes," Mr. Zubchevich said. "And that creates arousal, which creates all that cascade of events that lead to pleasurable sexual activity."

Private-equity funding
Mr. Zubchevich said he's finalizing a $10 million round of private-equity financing to fund the ad campaign to break in May, around the time the company releases results of its latest trials.

The ad was developed in house under Chief Marketing Officer Ira Brill, a veteran of Ernest & Julio Gallo Winery. Zestra also is preparing to name a media-buying shop and PR firm.

Local tests of Zestra's straightforward 30-second ad even at relatively low media weights have pushed the brand ahead of K-Y or Church & Dwight's Elexa in sales, Mr. Zubchevich said, adding: "We believe Zestra will be part of a $6 billion market."
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