K-Y Product Lines Heat Up in Middle America

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CINCINNATI (AdAge.com) -- That sex sells comes as no surprise. That it’s now selling quite nicely at Wal-Mart Stores -- the naughty-magazine-yanking retail nanny -- may come as a shock.

K-Y’s growth stems from new ad strategies aimed at the middle-American consumer base. Clinical problem-solution ads didn't resonate with this group but a message about 'enhancing intimacy between committed partners' did.
Mainstream sex ads
Suddenly at the forefront of taking sex aids mainstream, conservative marketer Johnson & Johnson almost overnight has doubled sales of its once-sleepy K-Y brand for the second time in four years thanks to the blockbuster summer rollout of a new line of massage oils. And nowhere has that success been greater than at Wal-Mart, where K-Y Touch Massage oils have hit the list of top 10 new health and beauty products of 2005, according to J&J VP-Personal Care Marketing Jim Peterson.

Now that it’s at full distribution, the massage line is selling ahead of the rest of the K-Y brand, Mr. Peterson recently told a workshop at the trade show HBA 2005 in New York. That follows a three-year stretch in which J&J doubled K-Y sales with such products as warming lubricants and new marketing approaches that include a cartoonish promotional booklet titled “The Modern Girl’s Guide to K-Y.”

Marketing message shift
Not that J&J is suggesting anything kinky. K-Y’s growth stems from studying its middle-American consumer base, where it found clinical problem-solution ads weren’t resonating but marketing to “enhance intimacy between committed partners” could, Mr. Peterson said.

TV ads from Interpublic Group of Cos.’ McCann Erickson, New York, show a smirking woman rousing her mate from a sofa snooze with the term “warms on contact.” Sibling Universal McCann handles media planning and buying.

K-Y has gone from a corporate exile to “a plum assignment” at J&J, Mr. Peterson said. “Part of our biggest challenge is just having the courage to talk about this in our company. It’s not an easy thing to do the consumer research. We had to go into the subculture and understand the patterns and behaviors that are out there, which are more common than you’d think.”

'Sex holidays'
It turns out getting frisky with value-added lubricants is fast becoming as American as apple pie. J&J has found warming lubricants sell well not only for Valentine’s Day but also around Memorial Day and Fourth of July. “We dubbed these sex holidays,” Mr. Peterson said. “And we try to line up all our promotional efforts around them.”

Church & Dwight Co. is also getting in on the fun in a burgeoning business that Jim Daniels, VP-sexual health marketing, calls “intimacy care.” Having rekindled Trojan in recent years with Warm Sensations lubricants and Twisted Pleasure condoms, C&D in August launched Elexa, a Trojan-endorsed brand for women that includes intimacy gel and vibrating condom rings.

Elexa has succeeded in escaping lightly trafficked condom displays in favor of feminine-care aisles, Mr. Daniels said. “We found women want to shop for sexual-health products, but in their section of the store.”

Less bawdy ads
Elexa’s ads from Publicis Groupe’s Kaplan Thaler Group, New York, take a tamer approach than sometimes bawdy Trojan ads. They broke earlier this month during prime time on UPN, on female-oriented cable networks and in women’s magazines.

Still, Middle America isn’t quite ready to let it all hang out. Vibrating condom rings are banned from stores in eight states, including Texas, Mr. Daniels said, though they’ve become popular at Amazon and other online retailers.

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