Tess Wicksteed: How To Be Innovative When Talking About Intimate Products?

Tess Wicksteed: How To Be Innovative When Talking About Intimate Products?

Why design has the power to easily say things that are often times uncomfortable.

Tess Wicksteed, Pearlfisher
  • 17 april 2014

Intimacy has never been so in your face. We are all connecting in ever more instant and personal ways – largely, of course, through social media channels. And many brand marketers are now being very vocal about how best to maintain scales of intimacy: the ability to operate at scale but still foster individual intimacy and care for their consumers. But there’s a flip side to this. We seem to be blindsided to a potentially huge opportunity to create and redefine new levels of intimacy for one of our biggest and most diverse market sectors: our most intimate and personal products and brands.


Bold and explicit brands, such as Help Remedies, embraced branding to disrupt and steer a new direction for the pharma category in ways we probably never imagined. In turn, we are throwing issues such as mental health into the spotlight and innovating with product design and creative solutions to tackle and normalize stigma. But when it comes to sanitary brands or the huge sexual health and function arena, we still seem to be shying away from interaction – and how we start an intimate dialogue.

Our whole culture is focused on the experiential and emotive connections and finding new ways to facilitate this. Design has the power to say things that are painful, intimate and uncomfortable. And good design communication, as the starting point, undoubtedly helps the propagation of ideas and information – across any and all channels. The much talked about and unashamedly direct ‘Camp Gyno ad (for period-supply subscription service ‘Hello Flo’) is a case in point. The viral ad was far more direct than the tamer broadcast version.

Maybe it stands to reason. The Internet is intrinsically an ‘intimate’ medium and you have the scope to be more direct in an intimate setting. Intimate products used to only be available through your pharmacist with a discreet brown paper bag and medicinal packaging to protect you from embarrassment. Today, many of these brands are front of counter and both consumers and brands are required to come face to face with intimacy in all forms. We know it is not the concept of ‘intimacy’ that consumers are shying away from, rather the way it is communicated and experienced. This puts the emphasis firmly on design as a key and constant connection between the product and the buying experience.


The opportunity is for more brands in the personal sector to devise new and ownable design languages that help consumers feel proud of their products again. Brands like KY (both original and Yours) have begun tapping into this opportunity, redesigning their overtly personal offers in ways that are both efficacious and friendly.

Taking a far more direct approach is the exuberantly ironic Poo Pourri – a range of poo masking sprays. The naming is direct and indirect at the same time – toying with going too far depending on how lavatorial your sense of humor is (a cultural thing quite possibly). The role of design in this case is ironic too – conventional category language played to the hilt.

But one of our favorite new examples has to be Bonk Lube. The name leaves you in no doubt as to what it is but the organic material emphasizes the key organic ingredients of the lubricant range with the sensual intertwining of the male and female symbols conveying its gender-neutral positioning. It’s fresh, quirky, direct and tactically engaging with a design that amplifies the tagline: “Bonk, it’s only natural.”

We are starting to see a change here but there is no reason for these intimate brands to be behind the curve, like they were once behind the counter. It’s about finding the best way to scale intimacy for the benefit of your brand and its community. Some such as Bonk Lube will choose to say it loud and proud. For others, discreet may still be the desired option but discreet can still be better designed. In any case, design has the power to help intimate brands find their own unique voice and expression.

Tess Wicksteed is Executive Vice President at Pearlfisher. Having worked at Pearlfisher for over 13 years, Tess is a strategic driver in the development of Pearlfisher New York. Tess’s great talent is her instant ability to see the wood for the trees. As a major force behind Pearlfisher’s strategic offer, she trades in originality, clarity and logic, delivering bold imaginative thinking for brands like Coca-Cola, Absolut, Unilever, and Nestle.


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