Such staid, mainstream marketers as Johnson & Johnson and Church & Dwight Co. are joining traditionally more daring small fry like Ansell Healthcare (marketer of LifeStyles condoms) and SSL Americas (Durex) in a growing wave of novelty items hitting the respectable reaches of mass retail.
The bustling mainstream sex trade would seem to fly in the face of growing power for cultural conservatives who have pressured the Federal Trade Commission to levy indecency fines, pressured Congress to extend indecency statutes to cable TV and pressured more-timid advertisers off racy programming.
Despite all that, marketers say the public's appetite for sex enhancers-fueled and facilitated in part by heavy advertising of erectile dysfunction drugs-has never been stronger. Take K-Y jelly and its owner J&J, whose chief marketing officer Andrea Alstrup was a founding member of the Association of National Advertisers' Family Friendly Programming Forum.
After years of being quietly tucked in remote corners of drugstores, K-Y's two-year-old warming lubricant line has been showing up in end-aisle displays and leading fairly robust 5.8% growth in the $87 million personal-lubricants business, according to Information Resources Inc. Now J&J is going a step further with a new line of K-Y Touch Massage Oils to be backed by a TV campaign breaking later this month from Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson, New York.
Touch Massage hit retail shelves in May and even without media support yet, retail sales are three to four times the levels of new K-Y products in the past, said Bryant Ison, product director. The appeal, he said, "is a lot broader than lubricants." Such retailers as Wal-Mart Stores and CVS have warmed to K-Y, too, he said, giving the brand more end-aisle displays in recent years, and the massage oils appear to be getting even better play.
"The support from the trade has surprised us internally," he said, and that's crucial for the category. "This is an impulse item," he said. "It doesn't make the top of the grocery list with milk and eggs."
Ansell's LifeStyles isn't exactly expecting end-cap displays for its new 4Play line, which includes edible body paints and condoms with vibrating rings. But it is seeing plenty of interest from mainstream retailers, said Paula Etchison, VP-marketing and business development.
Some states may classify the vibrating ring as a sex toy, potentially triggering zoning restrictions and causing concern for some retailers, she said. But most retailers are open to putting the new products alongside condoms and other items in the family-planning section, which she said increasingly has emerged from behind the counter to regular store shelves in recent years.
The vibrating ring, similar to a line simultaneously being launched by Durex, has enough juice in the tiny battery to last a guaranteed 18 minutes, though it usually goes 30 in tests. The products began shipping to stores this month, with print advertising from SG&W, Montville, N.J., breaking in such magazines as Cosmopolitan in September. Lifestyles will also support the launch with newspaper coupons and expects strong PR coverage via Dreamcoat, New York, including magazine reader reviews.
Coming soon, she said, is 4Play edible body chocolate, "which tastes just fantastic," she said. "There are a lot of ways to extend the line while still promoting safer sex, which is what we're all about."
Marketers say public appetite for sex enhancers has never been stronger