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‘We take them very seriously’: The marketing challenges and opportunities for Australia’s biggest sexual wellness brand

Lovehoney's head director of ANZ, Charlie Ganzen, spoke to Mumbrella's Lauren McNamara on advertising a typically taboo topic, the challenges that come with being a sexual wellness brand, and how it is successfully entering the mainstream retail landscape.

One of the world’s leading sexual wellness brands, Lovehoney, has a vision to help consumers pursue sexual happiness. By advertising the typically taboo topic and selling products in mainstream retailers, the brand is on a mission to destigmatise conversations around sex.

Lovehoney’s Charlie Ganzen, head director of ANZ, tells Mumbrella the brand is confident enough in itself and its capabilities to position itself in market as an educator and channel for sexual happiness, rather than a market leader, unlike may other market-leading brands.

Charlie Ganzen

The brand has existed for over 20 years, 10 of those in Australia, and he says being number one is implied through its marketing and positioning, and does not need to be splashed across the front page.

“We don’t lead with that message, we don’t like to position ourselves directly with [being a market leader], but instead we lean on other things such as the types of educational content that we have, our brand ambassadors, being sexual happiness people,” he says.

Instead, it describes itself as “synonymous with a fun, fulfilling, healthy sex life”, it’s mission is “delivered through the quality and innovative pleasure products we design, manufacture and sell via our best-in-class consumer websites and our trusted partners”.

Destigmatising via advertising

Lovehoney is a playful brand, and Ganzen says it often leans on culturally relevant topics for advertising, in a light-hearted, cheeky manner, to make it engaging. This helps encourage Australians to start talking positively and openly about sex, he argues.

Combining conversations that are relevant with things that are typically seen as taboo is a key way to get the brand’s messaging across.

“We will typically find a relevant topic to discuss, and make the messaging fun, but we’ve also got to balance that with being respectful to the audience,” he explains. “For example, last year with the Reserve Bank interest rate hikes, it was obviously a tough time for Australians, but through some advertising, we were able to bring a light-hearted, playful tone to what was going on, and bring Lovehoney relevance to that.”

The brand’s advertising hopes to break down historical or cultural stigmas around sexual wellness, and the benefit of that is “the wellbeing of all of us” – both mentally and physically.

“Everyone can gain from this stigma being broken down, so it’s really important we do that through our advertising.”

He argues that because of the stigma within the industry, there is so much potential waiting to be unlocked: “There are so many considerers still yet to engage with this, and that’s a hugely exciting growth potential in our industry still, despite how large it is already.”

Facing challenges head on

However, Lovehoney’s advertising is not always smooth-sailing. As a brand promoting sex products and sexual education, it has received its fair share of Ad Standards complaints, negative feedback and platform restrictions.

Ganzen tells Mumbrella there’s a number of processes the brand goes through before it gets anywhere near advertising, and that’s just the nature of the industry.

“There will always generally be negative comments or something of that nature, but we’re talking really small amounts here,” Ganzen says. “But they’re always outweighed by positivity from our customers.”

He says negativity is never something he’s nervous about as an advertiser: “The negativity is never overwhelming, and we make sure to face their opinions. As I said, we’re all about balancing being respectful as an advertiser with having fun, playful, educational messaging.

“There’s a minefield of restrictions that we’ve got to dodge,” he continues, “so we’ve become very well educated in what we can and can’t do. We’ve become clever too – extremely clever with innuendo in particular. So there’s a massive process through a number of different departments within our business to make effective ads.”

As for official complaints, in Lovehoney’s ten year Australian history, it has been through a number of Ad Standards cases – all of which were dismissed by the industry body.

The most recent complaint, a Christmas ad from 2023 that aired during appropriate times for a ‘mature’ audience (8:30pm-3am), featured real customer reviews from its website, with accompanying visual scenes.

The complaint claimed the ad was on TV at inappropriate times and targeted children.

The Ad Standards Community Panel found it was “principally appealing to adults, and was not principally appealing to children” and that it “was not highly sexually suggestive or explicit and that the advertisement did treat the issue of sexuality with sensitivity to the relevant audience”. The Panel found it treated sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity, and dismissed the complaints.

“We’re not immune to Ad Standards complaints. A complaint is different to some form of punishment, which fortunately we have not yet faced, but we come across them often,” Ganzen comments.

“We take them very seriously, and we address them seriously too.”

Meanwhile, a big challenge the brand faces is platform restrictions and censorship across all advertising channels, particularly social media and search engines.

“That’s probably our biggest challenge as a retailer,” he explains. “On any given day, different ads could be restricted, and we need to adhere to those restrictions. We’re constantly having to adapt, so when we can find a way to engage with a relevant topic, like we did for the Reserve Bank, we can continue to push normalisation and destigmatisation of sexual wellness.

“But advertising on social media platforms and Google pose the biggest risks – especially if we work with influencers, we risk de-platforming them. So we’re always learning and working with these companies and platforms to reduce that risk, and again, that helps us normalise the conversation and educate people on their sexual wellness journeys.”

Entering mainstream retailers

The biggest opportunity for the brand, and the sexual wellness industry as a whole, is the demand for sexual wellness in mainstream retailers.

“We’re seeing a surge in mainstream retail, which is normalising this industry. Consumers wants to buy sex toys, they want to engage in this industry. So what we’re now seeing is mainstream retailers like David Jones, Adore Beauty, really help to push this normalisation,” Ganzen explains.

“It’s so important, it’s giving us an opportunity to reach new audiences, and help the industry evolve quite quickly. Having huge retailers like David Jones promote sexual wellness is going to allow other retailers who are considering the category to say, ‘well if they can do it, so can I’.”

He says the partnerships with mainstream retailers is helping Lovehoney promote its aforementioned mission helping consumers have “a fun, fulfilling, healthy sex life”.

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