Lovehoney and the wild world of lockdown sex

MediaCat chat to the Lovehoney team about remote love, tackling stigma and having conversations around sexual wellness

Established in Bath in 2002, online retailer Lovehoney has been in the forefront of bringing the sexual health industry into the mainstream over the past two decades — latterly as the Lovehoney Group, which also includes premium sexual wellness product developer WOW Tech Group and Swiss brand Amorana.

Last month, Lovehoney inked a deal with partnership automation platform impact.com to support the in-housing of its affiliate and influencer activity. The brand’s senior global affiliate marketing manager Catherine Dunn and head of digital performance marketing Simon Boice spoke to MediaCat Magazine’s Editor, Mike Piggott, about sex in the time of covid, differing global attitudes to sexual openness and why adult retailers need to make the most of their media options.


Hi Lovehoney team. So, first things first, what does the digital marketing mix look like for a retailer in the adult space these days?

Catherine Dunn: As an adult retailer, there are some things that are available to a conventional brand that just aren’t options for us. Re-marketing in most of our channels, for example, just isn’t possible, and there’s no audience segmentation and reach capabilities within social. So we really need to lean into those channels that are willing to let us have that very important conversation with people around sexual happiness and sexual wellness.

Affiliates are a big part of what we do, and over the years, most of the big publishers have come round to working with us. In their eyes, we are really just another niche retailer, and we put ads through many of the normal mainstream affiliates you would expect shopping sites to use, including cashback and voucher sites.

Influencers have always been a large part of the mix too – they can help us open up audiences that the likes of Google and Facebook through their advertising interfaces can’t.

And now you’re in-housing that whole operation, right?

CD: This is the point of working with a platform like impact.com — they enable us to track all our campaigns, to maintain a direct relationship with our affiliates and influencers, and they give us the flexibility to manage it all in-house in a way we never could with an affiliate network.

How has the adult market fared under the conditions of the past couple of years?

Simon Boice: Well, a global pandemic is an awful thing, and we are certainly not celebrating it — nobody wants it to happen again. However, with lockdowns happening globally and sequentially around the globe as waves hit,  there has been significant growth within the adult sector.

The fact that couples have been locked down together has stimulated a great deal of category uptake. Couples being locked down apart from one another has also created an interesting shift in the mix towards more of the remote control and app-controlled type devices, which are a means of attaining some sort of feeling of closeness, despite geographical distance.

Attitudes towards what Lovehoney calls ‘pleasure products’ have been warming up for some time in the UK — but lockdown accelerated this, right?

SB: Yes, definitely. Even prior to that, there had been a growing trend towards the normalisation of sexual happiness. In the UK, we’ve been dealing with a bit of a legacy issue where sex is taboo and absolutely not something one talks about — certainly not something a British person feels they should talk about.

But I think over the 20 years Lovehoney has been trading, the brand has done a lot to drive the normalisation of sex toys, particularly in places where we’re established, like the UK. We have spent 20 years building a market — getting people to realise that this is normal, this is okay, this is good fun. And then when the pandemic happened, we had the groundwork there, ready to receive that demand spike.

How do other countries compare with this newer and more progressive UK, in terms of their attitude to adult products and the way you market to them?

SB: In countries like the US where as a brand we’re not so well known, we haven’t yet had the same widespread de-stigmatisation of sex toys, but we are still seeing that spike in demand. So that creates very different competitive propositions in different markets. In the UK, where we are much more supported by blog content, editorials, advisories in terms of the healthcare aspects, the market is nuanced and relatively open. In America, it’s ‘12 inches for under $20’ — the market is much more cut-throat, much more price- and promotion-driven. So I think we’re also seeing some interesting differentiation.

Featured image: Lovehoney

Mike Piggott

Mike is Executive Editor at MediaCat Magazine. For eight years (2013 to 2020) he shaped and led The Marketing Society’s editorial, digital and content strategy, working with CMOs, marketing directors, CEOs, authors, and heads of strategy to produce culturally relevant content that resonates with business leaders worldwide. Near the end of 2021 he joined MediaCat Magazine. On the side he's a screenwriter, spoken word poet, film and TV blogger and music critic. He also once came second in a Creative Review competition to rewrite Trainspotting's famous 'choose life' speech.

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