Prioritizing Discretion Is Key When Sex Toy Companies Ship Their Products
Branding is a big part of the equation when selling a product.
You want to create a visual look that will connect with your intended customers, and for many companies, that means a top-to-bottom, unique, unified visual aesthetic.
Seeing the same visual vibe extend from the company’s logo and website to business cards and the boxes they ship their products in is relatively standard in today’s hyper-competitive world. But it’s not so straightforward when you’re in the business of selling sex toys, where discretion and privacy are taken into the highest level of consideration.
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In order to better understand how sex toy packaging looks, as well as why, AskMen spoke to three different people in the sex toy industry. Here’s what they had to say:
What Does Sex Toy Packaging Look Like?
In order to understand what sex toy packaging looks like, you’ll have to differentiate between the packaging that the product comes in and the packaging that the product is shipped in — essentially, the inside box and the outside box.
According to Tami Rose of Romantic Adventures, a sex toy boutique in Jackson, Mississippi, the the two are not similar at all.
“People want discreet wrapping for their sex toys, but not necessarily discreet packaging,” she explains. “It depends on what environment they are encountering them in.”
Contemporary sex toy brands do their utmost to ensure that no one will ever have a clue what’s inside your box (except you, of course).
When it comes to shipping packaging, customers “want it sent in a plain brown box with a discreet return address in case the neighbor gets their box by mistake,” says Rose.
That means plain brown cardboard boxes with no logos, brand names, and often even a return address that obscures the nature of the company doing the shipping.
“I have seen no change in our customer’s shipping requirements relating to discretion, meaning that customers have always expected shipments to be private,” says Brian Sloan, the creator of the Autoblow sex toy line. “I do not see that changing.”
Sex toy companies and stores know that a bad experience with too-obvious packaging means they won’t get a lot of repeat customers, leaving it in their best financial interest to keep customers happy on that front.
However, when it comes to in-store packaging, that’s something else entirely. An entire store full of plain, discreet boxes will most likely struggle to make money, no matter what’s inside those boxes, according to Rose.
“We used to have a phenomenon in the store called the ‘Curse of the Black Box,’ because I can’t tell you how many times I had to mark down or repackage a line because they came in a black box and no one wanted them,” she says. “There is such a thing as too discreet!”
In-store packaging provides sex toy companies with the opportunity to really express their brand aesthetic, and can fling it subtlety out the window.
“Our product packaging itself states in large letters on the top, ‘For Blowjobs, It’s the Best!’” says Sloan. “Because our devices are sold in stores as well as online, we do not make any effort at making our actual product packaging discreet. We are free on our packaging to create art that is open about what the product does and how,” he says, including “multiple product images and explanations.”
While Sloan says that he hasn’t seen much by way of change in the 12 years he’s been in the industry, noting that “product packaging remains direct and in many cases even vulgar, particularly for men’s products,” Rose isn’t in complete agreement, particularly when it comes to women’s or couples toys.
“Packaging has changed drastically since I first took over the store six or seven years ago,” she says. “I attribute it to the fact that there are more women in the business now than ever before, in ever more powerful positions.”
She goes on, noting how “it used to be common to see an over-coiffed, scantily clad woman with blue eyeshadow on the packaging, but it’s rare to find photos of actual people on toys now. You may see the occasional graphic art, or toys endorsed by a certain porn star, but those are few and far between.”
So what does the new vibe look like? Jamie Leventhal, the chief executive of sexual wellness brand plusOne, describes a “playfully enticing floral silhouette” on his company’s boxes that “invites an interested customer to interact with it further, without giving away too much of its substance, or being at all visually offensive.”
In part, the push towards less lewd and more inviting packaging is as a result of the expansion of sex toys beyond just sex toy stores and into larger retailers in recent years — in the U.S., plusOne products can be found in stores like Walmart, Target, CVS, and Walgreens, among others.
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“We want people to feel enticed yet comfortable when seeing and interacting with our products on shelves (especially, when someone is a total newbie), rather than appearing as provocative or too ‘out-there,’” explains Leventhal. One way to do that is with what she describes as a “magnetic peekaboo window” that allows for the prospective customer to see the product inside without actually having to buy it first.
Why Is Sex Toy Packaging So Discreet and Private?
Unsurprisingly, the main driver around the look of sex toy packaging in a shipping context is the fear of other people knowing what you’ve ordered. Though in many ways modern culture is much less puritanical and uptight than it was in decades past, lots of people still feel uncomfortable when it comes to the specific details of their sex lives being shared around.
“Even though our website states in multiple places that we ship in plain brown boxes, we receive multiple emails daily asking us if anyone will know what is inside of the package from looking at the shipping box, which suggests the issue is extremely important to our customers,” says Sloan. “The customers we have communicated with in the past have expressed that they did not want their partners, neighbors, roommates, family members, apartment complex staff, or even the FedEx guy to know what they purchased.”
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Leventhal notes that even in 2020, there’s still a “stigma around the ideas and conversations about sexual wellness and personal pleasure.”
“When purchasing sexual wellness devices, customers may worry about receiving judgement from those around them (household members, neighbors, other shoppers when buying in-store) as, yet again, such items are not (yet) widely accepted,” he says. “Other buyers simply choose to keep this part of their personal life, and relationship with their bodies, private.”
It’s possible that somewhere down the line, people will flaunt their freshly delivered sex toys the way they might brag about a new game console or pair of shoes. Until then, the plain brown cardboard box will just have to do.
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