The world was really quite different ten years ago, wasn’t it? The iPhone was still new-fangled technology, Netflix was still a DVD rental company and to find love you either had go to an IRL place and strike up conversation with strangers, or navigate a clunky dating site that you paid through the nose for. No chance of spending your evening endlessly swiping.
That was the world of 2008 that LifeStyles Healthcare launched its new condom brand Skyn in. “It was revolutionary for the category,” says Jeyan Heper, chief executive officer of LifeStyles. “It’s a non-latex product. It is softer, more elastic and allows you to feel everything.”
When the product was launched, Skyn’s messaging was all about product communication, he says. “The campaign was about not being latex, being different, unique, innovative. That was about a decade ago. The key starting point was that our category was playing on certain cliches, like all the condom players, and that was not driving the category onward. The communication was either juvenile or kind of ‘safety, safety, safety’ - the limiting the pleasure part of it.”
But things have changed. “If we look back over the last ten years there were systemic revolutions,” says Jeyan. “The world has changed and product-based communication is no longer relevant. You need to create connections, emotions and meaningful relationships with people.”
Sex sells. Or so we are repeatedly told. And so working on a brand that’s unavoidably linked to sex seems like a dream advertising brief. Alex Pasini, SVP, global alliances and partner at Sid Lee, who has the Skyn creative account, recognises this. “When you get new creative teams from our offices they’re chipping in ideas for Skyn and you end up in that territory - sex sells, greater performance and the cliches of the category. To a newbie arriving to this category it’s an easy trap to fall into. That’s not the Skyn space.” And definitely not since the brand started working with Sid Lee a few years ago.
“When we partnered with Sid Lee we changed everything,” says Jeyan. “We stopped that product-focused communication and moved into a better understanding of millennials, insight-based communication. And we developed this platform called ‘Feel Everything’. This enabled us to open new doors in our relationship with millennials. And the rest is history.”
Having learnt that (according to Nielsen) 92% of consumers say they trust their peers and word-of-mouth recommendations, the brand was keen to make this central to its strategy.
With Sid Lee, Skyn laid out three goals. Firstly to stay true to themselves, who and what they are, and to communicate that. Secondly, that honesty is the best policy. The third is to invite consumers to join the brand’s journey. “And this is what differentiates us versus any brand out there now in the category,” says Jeyan. “We invite people to be a part of this journey and co-create us.”
With this in mind, the brand launched its ‘Places of Intimacy’ book earlier this year, inviting 30 couples to go out travelling around the world to write about the best places to have sex in
. A premium coffee-table book with a naughty mission, the brand describes it as: “a highly detailed and specific guide to the best places to get intimate in, on, under, against or next to…”
Another key component to Skyn’s shift in messaging was the realisation that it, as a brand associated with sex, had a role to play in some very weighty, often divisive, conversations that society is constantly having around the subject of sex.
November 15, 2017 was a day when one of these conversations reached an important moment - the day Australia went to the polls to decide whether equal marriage should be legalised.
Skyn - and LifeStyles more generally - knew it needed to take a stance on this. “LifeStyles wants to bring joy to millions of people regardless of sexual orientation, background, race, culture, opinions,” says Jeyan. “We’re very inclusive. And when the marriage equality vote took place in Australia, that was a divisive topic. Half of the population were against it. The other half were pro it. And we said ‘why limit love?’ We were very vocal on that because it’s part of our values and mission statement.”
The brand ran a promotion on its e-shop, so whatever percentage of the vote came out in favour of equal marriage would be the discount you could get off certain products - eventually 65% - quite a hefty deduction. And to celebrate the ‘yes’ vote winning, Skyn also put out a cheeky video: ‘Yes, Yes, Yes’.
The discussions that society is wrestling with around the subjects of sex and relationships are hefty - not the easiest conversations for a brand to involve itself in.
There’s a responsibility to be considered for a company like LifeStyles, positioned in the centre of some difficult conversations. The company’s eponymous entry-level brand, known as Mates in some markets, speaks to a different group than Skyn, but one with arguably more moral questions to wrestle with. “It’s a more affordable product, more for 18+, university student age [people]. The positioning on Mates is around confidence,” says Jeyan. “This is the period where people want to be comfortable in their first dates, first intercourse, first relationships. The brand is there to give that confidence. You can do things with confidence.”
Working with Hamburg-based +KNAUSS and AMP Agency in the US, in 2016 they started with the insight that kids today first learn about sex through porn. “And when you watch these films, the way women are treated is brutal. It’s not real. And they create their whole perception about relationships and how to treat women based on what they see there. And that’s not correct,” says Jeyan.
The brand created a campaign called ‘Smart is Sexy’ to combat this. “We wanted to break these preconceived notions about stereotypes,” says Jeyan. “Sexy is not about body parts. Sexy is about attitude. Sexy is about how you behave. So we started this campaign.”
There are some hefty questions around consent here and LifeStyles weren’t afraid to engage with them. “We wanted to empower women by educating men,” says Jeyan. “The whole project started with that. We believed this was the right thing to do.”
As a company, they’re over ‘sex sells.’ Jeyan is proud of the playful campaign for how it avoids stereotypes of the category. “It plays with the cliches, but says you don’t need to have certain things to be sexy. It’s different. And it sells. It’s talking about sex but not just sex. It’s really broadening the business.”
Society is changing dramatically right now and Sid Lee is keen to confront these issues in its campaigns for the Skyn brand.
“A big part of our strategy is talking about the relationship that youth has with sex and love”, says Alex. “There are a lot of factors that are changing this - entertainment, technology, culture at large.”
Ten years ago, when Skyn began, we used to go to clubs to meet people and cinemas for dates, remembers Jeyan. Between 2005 and 2015, half of the clubs in the UK closed down
. “They are out of business because no one goes there anymore. The ritual has changed,” he says. “It’s now at your fingertips. Spotify gives you the clubs and bars and Netflix gives you the cinemas. Deliveroo brings you the restaurants. Everything is in intimate at your home. And most of the time you are alone, in front of the screen, chatting with strangers on Tinder.”
“I heard a lot of cafes are re-engineering their floorplans to make sure that people come on Tinder dates,” notes Alex. He adds that NBA stars are better than they used to be, allegedly because they used to hit the clubs to meet women, while drinking of course. Now they have dating apps they drink less, so they’re healthier than ever.
But while potential sexual partners are at our thumb-tips, there’s been a change in sexual behaviour that’s concerning for brands like Skyn - people are straight-up having less sex
. And particularly young people. Alex remembers a Forbes article
he read a couple of years ago that claimed that in the 20 to 24 years old age bracket, 15% are virgins. That’s six percent more compared to the people that were 20 to 24 in the ‘90s.
Skyn’s answer to all this has been about championing intimacy at a time when it’s under threat. Alex calls the audience it’s trying to reach the ‘serial monogamists’: “It’s not ‘players’ or people that are younger, just fooling around. But at the same time there’s the serial aspect. They’re not married, but they’re going from short-term relationship to another short one. But they still want to live that whole relationship.”
There’s a contradiction in these cultural shifts that Skyn is situating itself within. “More than at any other time you’re able to connect with whoever, whenever for whatever. But it’s hard to get intimate, get into that meaningful relationship. We wanted to play with that tension,” says Alex. “We’re holding the torch that we’re about intimacy.”
You can see this in Skyn’s most recent campaign - a dystopian future world presented by director Terence Neale in which human connection has all but died out. “What’s happening with the future relationship and where does intimacy play a role?” asks Alex. “I think the work is being crystallised right now.”