Queens of the sex age! The days of burning bras are over, time to pick up your Rabbits and get Ramping! The era of fluffy cuffs, naughty nurses and vibrators is here! We know it, we love it and we consume it!
Sex shops in the UK have traditionally been seen as dirty, dangerous, back street shops, hidden away out of sight and visited only by seedy men under the cover of darkness. But in recent years more and more sex shops are appearing on our high street. There is now an Ann Summers on practically every high street in England. But there is nothing seedy or dangerous about these shops, with their novelty lingerie, message oils and fun accessories, they have become welcoming, fun, acceptable, safe places packed full of women.
According to surveys published in 2012 half of all Britain’s use sex toys. Sales of these toys rocketed to 5.5 billion a year and are estimated to rise to 40 billion by 2020. Just to give you a rough idea of just how much this really is, our sex toy consumption matches that of smartphones… now that’s a lot of sex toys!
Over the past 40 years the uprising of such sex shops like Ann summers has significantly changed the public’s perception and attitudes toward sex. The old smutty view that ‘women aren’t interested or can’t enjoy sex’ has long since been lost. Men are no longer the dominate gender in purchasing sex products, women have taken the thrown, they have become liberated. In fact Ann Summers has largely encouraged the right for women to enjoy sex. In contrast any sex shop catering exclusively for men pretty much still carries a reputation of being sordid and dirty. So it seems only female sexuality has been embarrassed by today’s society to be something playful, something dare I say it, to be encouraged. Opposed to male sexuality, which is usually deemed as puerile or perverted, and just not that sexy.
Ann Summers is essentially a British multi-international company lead by women for women. It specializes in sex toys and lingerie. In 2004 the chain already had 117 high street shops across the UK, Ireland and channel islands. In 2007 – 2008 the company had an annual turnover of £117.3 million. Ann Summers reported that 80% of their customers during this period were ABC 1 (middle class) women and the other 20% men shopping for their partners. However this was not always the case, originally Ann Summers was a brand that typically targeted an almost entirely male demographic, as most sex shops did back then. Jacqueline Gold the CEO of the company has had to fight tooth and nail over the past 40 years to get her male colleagues and most importantly the public to take notice of the right for women to enjoy sex. She has single-handedly transformed a brand that was originally hostile and dismissive toward female sexuality, a brand who’s customers were 90% male, to one that is now entirely for women, where female sexuality is embraced and celebrated, opposed to protested against.
Jacqueline Gold achieved this remarkable transformation in attitudes through a variety of clever advertising strategies:
1. Gold ‘feminized’ the traditional male sex shop – She significantly reduced the quantities of porn and sex toys sold and increased the amount of lingerie.
2. This feminiztion lead to the re-branding of the sex shop – she realigned the shop with a more designed led and fashion orientated style as apposed to seedy, dark and dangerous. Thus re-naming it from a ‘sex’ shop to a ‘lingerie’ shop. There is significantly less stigma associated with a lingerie shop, thus allowing the public to become more accepting of its presence.
3. Gold then redesigned the shop – Ann Summers is associated with its bright pink and purple theme, which runs right throughout the shop. The shop is plastered in girly pink, purple, red, black and gold colours, this gives the shop a lustrous sexy feel. Its open door policy and tantalizing music makes the shop feel approachable, warm and welcoming. The layout of the shop is carefully thought out as to not scare the customer away. Only novelty knickers and lingerie are displayed at the front of the shop, with sex toys and accessories towards the back, if you dare to explore!
4. As another marketing tactic to get the public on her side, Gold introduced a new ‘party plan’ concept in 1981. Ever since the concept first took off it has significantly grown in popularity. There are now around 4,000 Ann Summers parties every week in the UK. These parties are exclusively for women and involve the presentation of sex toys and lingerie in an informal setting. These parties have allowed women to become more open-minded and accepting about the use of toys in order to stimulate a happy, fun, healthy love life.
5. Finally, Gold created a unique selling point for Ann Summers, she created the ‘Rampant Rabbit’. This is a type of vibrator exclusive to Ann Summers and has become the number 1 sex toy. Essentially Gold introduced the world to sex toys, she encouraged their use and made them more mainstream and acceptable.
However, Ann summers must tread the line carefully when it comes to promoting and encouraging sexual fantasies and extreme sexual practices. The shop must offer nothing more than ‘light’ bondage accessories, toys and outfits. There are mixed reviews on the arrival of Ann Summers stores to our high streets, for example some people feel/ condemn the brand as totally inappropriate and degrading to marriages and women. I personally don’t agree with this statement. I do not at all feel the shop is degrading or offensive to women, but i do believe the company puts too much emphasis on the ‘aesthetic’ woman, this idea that skinny is sexy. Furthermore these are not the only difficulties Ann Summers has encountered. Due to the adult nature of the company Ann Summers has frequently faced opposition both legal and social. Social objections toward the company has lead to the closing of several branches across the UK, after parents complained about window displays and the embarrassment they caused when walking past with curious children.
So Ann Summers is dabbling in a difficult and controversial market, it is inevitable that they are likely to meet opposition, but as a whole the brand has been breaking new territory on the high street ever since the first store opened in London in 1972. In the face of much controversy and heated debate the company, a leading retailer of sexy lingerie, toys and accessories has grown from humble backgrounds into a national chain proudly champing female sexuality, bring fun, playfulness and better sex to the masses and hopefully soon to wales!!