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It is this managing editor’s daunting task to write about Brian Sloan. Maxim described Sloan as “a sex toy visionary.” GQ said he’s “one of the most successful young businessmen on the pleasure-products scene today.” Elite Daily’s eight minute documentary on Sloan, posted just a few months ago, has over seven million views. In other words, Brian Sloan isn’t simply a sex tech entrepreneur of unmissable adult toys but a media phenomenon with a backlog of press blurbs that would make most business moguls squirm with envy.
My boyfriend, David Safran, writes beloved jingles for Brian Sloan’s megaseller sex toys, and I’ve been curious to learn more about the man Techcrunch called, “the Kinky King of Beijing.” There is a rich tradition of Jews reinventing the adult industry, and Sloan is unstoppably and unquestionably part of that. The tech innovator is, among other things, starting a “new wave of amateur genitals on sex toys.”
Below is our exclusive interview with “the Steve Jobs of getting you off.”
You wrote a very funny line on Twitter about Jewrotica reminding you of Hebrew school in Skokie. I’m curious about your background and upbringing. Has Judaism in any way informed your career? Has it shaped your views of sex?
I grew up attending Hebrew school on Mondays and Wednesdays plus Sunday mornings. Whether or not it has influenced my career is an interesting question and one I’ve not considered until now. It’s not a place anything related to sex ever popped up. In hindsight it was really fun, but that’s mostly because we cracked jokes and generally misbehaved and the teachers didn’t know how to control us. So if anything, it only helped me practice being funny. We had an accordion playing music teacher named Mr. Miller who was like a caricature of a Hebrew School music teacher…he was the subject of countless jokes which now I feel pretty bad about.
Your hilarious ads—infomercials, cartoons, and now karaoke-style sing-along jingle videos—are posted on YouTube and Vimeo, and then get blasted to all the ends of the internet. What are your thoughts about advertising on streaming sites like Hulu? At this point, is there a big difference between viral videos and choice-based advertising?
Adult sites, even ones like mine which only sell products and offer no adult content, are prohibited from advertising on all mainstream video streaming sites including Hulu, YouTube, etc. We do advertise extensively on streaming porn sites, though, which I would not consider “choice-based.” All adult sites have ads regardless and users may not opt out of them. That banner advertising though is much different than and reaches a different audience than our viral videos which address a larger audience in a more mainstream way.
The main difference between a viral video of ours and our ads is that we pay for ads and closely track the ROI per spot with sophisticated tracking software. The viral videos do not give us a directly measurable ROI – in fact the ROI is probably more easily measured for the websites which run the content – they are the ones who make money from the clicks to their sites and from the ads that appear beside our videos on those sites. We of course get some click through and those videos generate additional search for our brand name, but the ROI is less easily measured.
I’ve noticed a number of female-driven startups are having great success in the sex tech industry. A recent Guardian piece about the increasing mainstream acceptance of sex toys mentioned “the award for digital health and fitness at January’s influential Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas went, for the first time, to sex toy company OhMiBod.” The award-winning product was a Kegel exerciser. You also create toys for women, and I’m curious to hear about your experiences marketing them. Have you noticed subtle differences in how female toys are advertised? Is the emphasis more on “health” and “fitness”? If so, does this mean the sex toy taboo is fading or has it simply been repackaged?
There is a very big difference for how we advertise our female toys versus our male toys. Men are much simpler to market to and also much less expensive to reach. Porn traffic, which is nearly limitless, can, with our expertise, create a positive ROI from banner ads. I’ve never successfully created a banner ad campaign to profitably sell our toys to women – women are shoppers while men are impulse buyers. They are two very different groups to reach.
Also yes, female toys are often marketed around concepts of health while we market male toys as things that make your penis feel good. There are other people who try to market male toys in the same way as female toys (with a more health-oriented approach) but there’s nothing funny about that and I prefer to take a more direct approach with male marketing.
I think the fact that female toys are marketed with a health perspective does mean the taboo, at least as it applies to women, is disappearing. Some new female-driven companies marketing unique toys to women also are helping to lessen the taboo, but I think it comes at a risk for female consumers. I have some experience that leads me to think that some women let their guards down when a female face is marketing a sex toy to them and do not as rigorously evaluate the benefits and potential drawbacks of the product. Women should not forget that even a friendly female face selling a product does not mean that the women are not out for the same thing as men are: your money.
The online magazine, Ozy, said “3-D printed molds [aim] at transcending the gender stereotypes plaguing the sex toy industry and empowering those who don’t feel represented.” You’ve been holding widely-discussed crowdsourced amateur body-part contests. From your experience, is the genitally-underrepresented being empowered? Are gender stereotypes transcending? Or, is the voting public too conditioned by glossy porn parts to crown an average human?
First, a lot of websites say a lot of stuff about 3D printing sex toys, but they don’t know what they are talking about. People do not want to 3D print sex toys. People do not own 3D printers and even if they did, how would they print motors and silicone, etc? A quarter of a percent of the market is into 3D printing anything, let alone sex toys. It’s just bullshit for clicks. I think people will continue to buy sex toys from actual sex toys manufacturers and that 3D printing at least in the next five years will not change this.
I don’t think there’s anything innately empowering about submitting your genitals to a public content for public voting. It depends on individuals. The chances of receiving a low or medium score are high. I submitted my own balls to the balls contest and would have bet money they would have rated in the top 10%. In fact I finished in the lower 60%. There was nothing empowering about that!
The reality of the genital beauty contests was that porno-looking vulvas won the top spots on vaginacontest.com, meaning hairless without dangling labia and unusually large scrotums holding unusually large testicles won the balls contest on ballscontest.com.
You live and work in China. What kind of relationship do you have with the factories? Are you concerned about piracy? What lessons can you teach American importers about successful business practices?
Yes, I’ve lived in China for nine years but am leaving this summer to move to Berlin. My relationship with most factories is not a particularly close one, except for the one that makes the Autoblow, Slaphappy and 3Fap. I need to communicate with them a lot and make several trips a year to Dongguan. I order my other products from about 20 other factories but they do not need close supervision. I have been to most of them once or twice only.
I’m not particularly concerned about piracy. I invest in my brands and I think in most cases that is suitable to make people buy my products instead of poorly made, poorly branded knock-offs. Buyers remember brands and are willing to pay for them. I don’t think many men would want to pay $80 instead of $120 for a fake Autoblow called the “Suck it 2000” with misspelled words on the package.
What can I teach American importers about doing business in China? That’s too long to answer here…I would mainly tell people that they should not consider buying from China from abroad without actually spending some time here understanding general business practices and understanding more about who their Chinese partners are and their interests and motivations.
From my understanding, your company, Very Intelligent Ecommerce, is web-based only. Since adult retailing is becoming more accessible—anyone can walk into Walgreens and leave with a sex toy—is there any incentive to get your products in stores? I can very easily see the Autoblow 2 sold at Brookstone.
Yes, we are web-based and do not have a physical location. My team works online all over the world and I’ve run the business this way for the last eight years. I sell the Autoblow 2 to distributors in Europe and most of the chain stores in the US. But the majority of the business is online and I plan to keep it that way. Offline sales to distributors/chains are low profit margin sales and increase risk from manufacturing so many extra units. The lower ROI and loss of brand control is just not attractive compared to doing it ourselves online, except in a carefully controlled limited way.
Which countries or cities have been most receptive to your product line? From any market research or data mining, what unusual demographic patterns have emerged?
Switzerland is a very small country where we have sold an unusually high number of Autoblow 2s. Denmark has also been a good market for us even though the population is relatively small.
I’ve been David’s thoroughly amused sounding board for the 3Fap and Autoblow 2+ songs, and I can’t get them out of my head. I’ve read that your brands of adult toys are the first with custom-made jingles. What was the decision to start incorporating short songs in your marketing campaigns? The responses seem to be very positive. Has this surprised you?
Ha, yeah the jingles are awesome! Yes, we are the first company to make jingles for this type of product. The decision was a simple one – my girlfriend suggested it and it had been something I’d thought about for years but never pulled the trigger on – so I just took action on it that day.
I’m not surprised that the reactions are positive and that the videos have been watched and shared so many times. The internet craves content – this is solid content!
Lastly, without revealing too much, can you tell us a bit about what new toys you’ll be launching this year?
We are in the final stages now of the molds for 3Fap, a 3-orificed masturbator I crowdfunded on Indiegogo. We’re also in development of a new automated male masturbator which should be for sale by Christmas.