The movie everyone was talking about at this year’s AVN Expo doesn’t star Jenna Jameson or Asa Akira and has no girl-on-girl scenes or money shots. Fifty Shades of Grey comes from a best-selling novel and major studio, starring a daughter of Hollywood nepotism and a guy who got his start in a Sofia Coppola movie. It’s the story of a young, naïve college student who meets a handsome billionaire who lavishes her with gifts, affection, helicopter rides and a little light bondage.
That last bit is what has the sex industry buzzing as they prepared for the “Fifty Shades Frenzy,” the title of a panel at the AVN Novelty Expo. “This category is going to go mainstream so quickly. I call it ‘vanilla bondage’,” says Marcus West of Joydivision, a company that manufactures a variety of adult toys. Tom Stewart of Sportsheets (a company that sells linens with Velcro, leather, D-rings and other features not available at Bed, Bath & Beyond) added that S&M/B&D has been around for along time but “23 years ago, it was deep down in the closet — the dungeon, as it were. Now it’s coming up to the living room.”
The panel focused on how to market to these new customers, how to make them feel comfortable coming in and get them to come back. “There will be a lot of ‘newbies’,” says West. “They’ll say ‘I’ve seen the movie, I want to have that experience. How do I do it?’ It’s up to your staff to guide them, to hold their hand through this process. It’s important for our industry.”
Part of that guidance is using suggestive advertising rather than explicit shots, as well as cross-selling by putting whips amidst the lingerie, lube and cleaner next to the vibrators and just the right impulse-buy DVDs by the cash register. Other suggestions were gift sets and “starter walls.” “Make it accessible, make it appealing,” Stewart says.
But will the “Fifty Shades Frenzy” be the windfall the industry is hoping/planning on? Fifty Shades of Grey began as Twilight fan fiction, but evolved into something older women could take to heart (and a few other parts). Fans have overlooked the novel’s atrocious writing and the fact that most billionaires resemble Sheldon Adelson or Donald Sterling more than they do Robert Pattinson: Odds are that, even if the movie has a lackluster script or leaden pacing, plenty of divorcees and housewives will buy tickets. And the adult industry is hoping they’ll keep their wallets open for a few more — and more salacious — items.