Background Despite the fact that 40% of adult women purchase sexual products, the industry still targets men. Libida.com launched in September 2000, to address the needs of “women who have the curiosity and desire to explore and enhance their sexual knowledge and experience.” A one-stop shop to buy sexual products and view sexual entertainment and information, the site attracted visitors but they weren’t buying products. Libida.com had to start selling products, or risk losing their financing. We agreed to work with Libida.com on a pro-bono basis because of its potential to revolutionize the adult sex product industry … and because its president happens to be a friend of one of our partners.
With no budget and a team consisting of our sole female creative and me, we met with Libida.com last November. We went through their business plan, and visited their distribution center to see the actual operations and products. Run by two female sexologists and with no real competition, it was clear that the Libida.com brand could become the place for women and sexuality. But first they needed a better understanding of their target and what “place” would attract them. We agreed on a two-tier process: First, we would provide insights into Libida.com’s consumer, and ideas for “the place.” From this initial research, we would create a print campaign to run where and when financing permitted. Second, once Libida.com had created buzz (and raised money to pay us), we would conduct in-depth research where we’d explore additional target groups, go outside of the Bay Area, test awareness of the site and competitive sites, and identify additional creative and media opportunities.
Research Objectives Asking women to talk about sexuality wasn’t hard – everywhere we look the media/entertainment industry bombards us with imagery and commentary about women’s sexual empowerment. The challenge was getting women to examine their own sexuality in an honest way, within the context of their personal lives, hopes, and experiences.
Given the “sensitive” subject matter, my role as moderator had to take a back seat to the natural flow of conversation. My discussion guide started with the broad and impersonal, but as the women relaxed and the wine took its effect, they were more prepared to share things from their personal experiences. My research objectives focused around three key discussion areas: - How do women define sexuality within their own lives - How do women perceive of, find out about, or use sexual products - Where do women go to explore their sexuality (or where would they like to go)
Methodology I had the time and resources to work with one group of consumers, so I considered my options carefully. I needed a group dynamic where women felt comfortable sharing their stories yet conscious of and curious to hear from others. I chose eight women who fit Libida.com’s core consumer profile: 30s, heterosexual, unmarried, well educated, financially secure, and sexually active. They knew one another in varying degrees: three were roommates/best friends, three were women who knew the others socially, and two were new to the group. As for venues, a focus group facility definitely didn’t seem right, so I pictured the safest, most comfortable place I knew: my own living room. I created a private world in my living room full of pillows, candles, and lots of wine. In return for their time, respondents received a “party favor” of their choice from the Libida.com website.
Key Findings/Implications In terms of sexuality, women want to see “themselves plus a little more.” It doesn’t matter whether the “little more” is adventure, confidence, or taking risks; what matters is that women aspire to things they can understand. From a place of understanding, each woman is free to adapt or push her own sexual identity. “Blondie’s more over-the-top than I am, but she’s comfortable with her femininity and sex appeal without being overly smutty.” “I like women who are constantly pushing down walls, they encourage me to feel more confident about my own sexuality.” Implications (for Libida.com): Women don’t want to see things so “out there” that they can’t relate; keep things within the realm of reality; push comfort levels in non-threatening ways, i.e., through humor. This is really important in terms of tone, packaging, sponsorships, and spokespeople.
Women discover sexuality on their own, but sexual products through someone else. Women describe first realizing their sexuality – be it through having an affect on others or through self-arousal – as moments of personal enlightenment. “I remember the first time I attracted a boy, all of a sudden I understood a totally new dynamic.” “I have a memory of arousing myself when I was only about three, and when I was a little older I started secretly humping my pillow before going to sleep.” Women’s first exposure to sexual products, though, tends to be initiated by someone else. “After college I lived with this woman who got two dildos for her Birthday so she gave me one. I had a blast with it, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to buy it on my own.” “I had a boyfriend buy me a vibrator once. I loved it but it was a little strange because it made me realize how easily I could take care of myself.” Implications: Once women use sexual products they’re hooked, but to get them there they need a nudge. Ideally, Libida.com would become that boyfriend or roommate who introduces them to the world of sexual products. To that end, the tone needs to be friendly and the product descriptions clear and inviting so women aren’t intimidated when purchasing on their own.
Women’s understanding of their own sexuality is dichotomous. There’s an interesting and intriguing dichotomy in how women perceive their sexuality. On the one hand, it’s so pervasive that it’s practically indistinguishable from the rest of their lives. “My sexuality is just there, it doesn’t matter who I’m with or what situation I’m in.” “I don’t distinguish between myself and my sexuality, it’s all part of who I am.” On the other hand, women are conscious of their sexuality and their ability to control it as they see fit. “In my professional life, I have to squelch my sexuality.” “I know my sexuality opens certain doors … I use that to my advantage professionally and personally.” “There’s definitely a difference between how I relate to men vs. women.” Implications: It’s important to recognize that women question the role of sexuality in their lives, and that enhancing sexuality through products needs to appeal to both sides of the dichotomy. By acknowledging sexuality in an unapologetic, humorous way, woman will feel comfortable and justified with whatever role sexuality is currently playing in their lives.
No one has created a “place” where women feel comfortable exploring their sexuality. Women don’t believe that there’s a place devoted to them. “When I think of sex stores, I picture those smutty places on Broadway that cater to men.” “Good Vibrations is so matter-of-fact and un-artistic, I feel like I’m shopping at Costco.” “I just assume the internet is all about porn.” Implications: There’s an opportunity to become the place for women and sexuality. Become more than a website (lose the .com in your name, sell product in stores, at events) and start producing proprietary products and packaging. Become known as a confidante and friend by putting a face behind your name – attend events, host Q and A sessions, etc.
Presentation The client presentation consisted of the qualitative findings, an illustrative “crib notes” reference book (attached), and the campaign itself (also attached, in its final form). The campaign worked in that it featured specific products, translated across all print venues (b+w or color, newspaper, magazine or postcards), and, most importantly, spoke to women in an honest yet humorous way that wasn’t intimidating or confusing.
Results The campaign was scheduled to run for free in a small, Long Island newspaper (owned by one of Libida’s investors), but the publisher pulled out, claiming his readership is “too family oriented.” Libida was so excited about the work that they decided to borrow money from other budgets to run the ads in the SF Weekly – a more tolerant venue. The first ad will run on June 24th. They also printed 500 postcards to send out and/or distribute at PR events.