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issue: November 2008 APPLIANCE Magazine

Europe Report
Expanded Online Edition: Philips Gets Intimate


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by Paul Roggema, Europe correspondent

These personal care devices have been around for decades, but now one of the world biggest healthcare OEMs is getting into the business.

Philip's first Intimate Massagers launched in the UK in Sept. 2008.

Many observers were quite surprised at Philips’ introduction of Intimate Massagers, designed “to stimulate and share a more sensual relationship.” The September product launch in the United Kingdom included the HF8410/00 Warm Massager, which is warmed on its charging base. The launch also included the HF8430/00 massager with LED candles to helps users “create an atmosphere of romance.” Finally, the HF8400/00 dual (him and her) massagers have a double cordless charging station.

Of course, Philips is careful about taking chances with its well-established reputation. It has spent millions in recent years to elevate its brand image, and would never market products that might be associated with shady “adult” shops or red-light districts. So the Intimate Massagers line was developed carefully and product concepts were tested extensively. “In my 25 years of business experience, I’ve never been associated with a line of products which has been so thoroughly vetted,” said Jim Hey, senior vice president and business unit leader for Health & Wellness.

“This area is fully in line with the Philips philosophy on health and well-being. Further, it’s a very interesting and worthwhile business to be in,” said Manfred Nitsch, who worked as a designer and creative director on the Intimate Massagers project and was team leader.

So what’s the strategy here and how does Philips ensure that it can market the products without looking too risqué?

First, the products themselves do not look like the traditional products in this category and have elegant pear-like shapes (similar shaped products from other manufacturers are also available). They come in dark purple, with flowing lines and pleasant soft-touch surfaces. According to Philips, the shape is meant to be discrete, and an outsider (or the kids) would not immediately understand the purpose.

Marketing and promotion of the line is clearly for couples, and the products are described with terms such as sensuality and intimacy. Marketing efforts include a video of a psychotherapist extolling the benefits such products may have on couples’ relationships. The importance of experimentation and exploration is discussed, as are the benefits of conversation by couples before and after using the product.

How did the company judge that the market was ready for a product such as this from a company like Philips?

“Our research, done over several years, identified the opportunities for these products and tested the designs to ensure full acceptance,” Ms. Janneke van Herwaarden, communications manager, told APPLIANCE magazine. “We are very happy with the reaction in the market: despite the fact that the products itself as well as the involvement of Philips in this area were new, we have seen very strong acceptance and powerful public and media endorsement of the new business.”

Cultures in Europe vary wildly, and Ms. Van Herwaarden said attitudes toward the product do differ in different European nations. “But marginally. In general we found that couples in European countries are similar in their openness to this new category.”
Ms. Van Herwaarden said Philips will evaluate its product introduction in the UK when planning additional product launches. “But we are working towards a long-term business here.”

His and hers Intimate Massagers.

The Evolution of the Category

The start of Philips’ Relationship Care products can be traced back to 2006, when the company began to consider developing products aimed primarily at addressing male sexual dysfunction. That concept did not come to fruition, but Philips Lifestyle product development teams saw potential in related areas. Philips Design was asked to develop alternative suggestions, and after evaluation a project began.

“We were involved in many different aspects, such as concept creation, people research, visual trend analysis, and communications,” said product designer Nitsch. “As Philips Design is the brand custodian, it was important to come up with proposals that fitted in with the context of the company.”

Of course, the product developers needed to learn the competitive landscape. That involved browsing on explicit Web sites, which required product developers to get special permission from Philips IT departments. Some team members even attended an erotic fair to see what products were being offered.

“Very early on,” Nitsch said, “We knew the direction we didn’t want to go in.”

Philips certainly doesn’t look at its massagers as sex toys. These are products designed to enhance meaningful relationships through mutual stimulation and stimulating the sensual curiosity of both partners in a sensitive and unintimidating way.

“The products are designed so you always have skin contact with your partner while using them,” says Nitsch. “We call it skinship. They are also very discreet and non-explicit.”
The choice of materials was also crucial. “For such intimate products, everything has to be just right,” Nitsch continues. “The surface texture, weight, temperature, how they fit in the hand, how easy they are to clean; impressions like these all have to combine to give you an overall impression of sensuality and trust. We wanted to give it a soft, silky feel, without using surface coatings that were in any way toxic or unsafe. To meet all these needs we carried out extensive research together with our own visual trends analysis experts and the Philips advanced technology centre in Drachten.”

Much attention was paid to function during the development of the devices. “For instance, we came up with the idea of incorporating multiple motors in the massager to create different vibration patterns that could stimulate both women and men,” says Nitsch. “The controls also had to be completely intuitive, so you could instinctively locate and use them through touch alone. It has to be that way; they will often be used when couples are looking at each other and not the product, and therefore it has to be obvious how to alter the intensity or change the mode without losing the magic of the moment.”

The sensitive nature of the devices motivated Philips to conduct extensive product research and testing. Early designs were validated using qualitative testing panels, then by quantitative testing via the Internet. More than 100 working prototypes were tested by target group representatives in Austria. Testing wasn’t limited to consumers; many different stakeholders from Consumer Lifestyle, Healthcare, and Lighting became involved as well. Even financial analysts were consulted.

“The results of all the tests were extremely encouraging, which showed that we were addressing the issues that people may have,” says Nitsch. “When you do that, you start eliminating the risks.”

 

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