50 Shades of Grey marketing phenom goes mainstream

NEW YORK (AP) — You've bought rope for that special someone, picked up a few sex toys and read those "Fifty Shades of Grey" books a time or three. You know who you are.

Well, no need to skulk about at naughty shops or the hardware store as Fifty Shades of Consumption makes it further into the mainstream.

Stuart Weitzman and Marc New York have Grey-struck campaigns in the fat September issues of fashion magazines, the former touting black stilettos and high, Anastasia Steele-worthy boots called "Fifty Fifty," named not for the blockbuster bondage books but equal parts leather and stretch.

"Stuart has always known that people just think shoes. They daydream shoes. They lust after shoes 24/7," said Susan Duffy, Weitzman's senior vice president of marketing. "It's almost like 'Fifty Shades of Grey.' People want 50 pairs of shoes. It's a love affair."

EMI Music is feeling the love. It's putting out "Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album" next month in partnership with E L James herself, ahead of the British writer's first visit to the Pacific Northwest locales where her hunky gazillionaire Christian Grey and his new-to-kink love interest dwell.

While James goes about remedying that geographical blip on her resume, she let loose Monday with her first licensing agreements for a range of products in North America.

Coming soon: official Fifty stockings and garters and printed tights. Undies and jammies and robes. T-shirts and knit tops and hoodies.

Add those to a slew of parody books, many self-published, beauty giant Bobbi Brown's new set of "Come-Hither Shades" for eyes in, yes, grays and marketing references and tie-ins for everything from iPad covers to bathroom fixtures. There's even a critical reader's guide, "Lighter Shades of Grey," that counts the number of times Ana mutters "Oh my."

These days, we're all Fifty Shades of somethin'.

"We don't always get a chance to connect our clients' brands to current day entertainment or news. But when we do, tie us down and hold us back!" said David R. Schlocker, founder and president of DRS and Associates, a luxury marketing and PR firm in Los Angeles for architectural, interior design and building clients.

The company recently pitched "Shades of Gray" kitchen and bath decor, including a Laufen washbasin with seductive curves and edgy Graff faucets in a brushed nickel.

Grey-sessed consumers have kept the books atop best-seller lists for more than 25 weeks, shot pre-orders for the EMI album to the top of classical picks on iTunes and Amazon — and breathlessly lobbied online for their choices to play Christian and Ana in the movie.

Meanwhile, Town & Country magazine bares a teaser on its September cover, "50 Shades of Rockefeller," for a story about a great-great-granddaughter of John D. and her new book, apropos of nothing more than the fresh-faced lexicon.

Trojan, the condom guys, had hundreds lining up for free vibrators last week on the streets of Manhattan, using "pleasure carts" like the ones for selling hot dogs. The crowds were so big the city shut them down temporarily, until the company procured the proper permits. Trojan doled out 10,000 vibrators over two days.

While Trojan has been selling vibrators since 2009, first-quarter sales this year — around the time the Fifty books hit it big — were up about 14 percent from the same quarter a year before, according to Nielsen.

"Thanks in part to the rise of pop culture hits such as 'Fifty Shades of Grey' and 'Sex and the City,' many consumers are looking for products to help add some spice and increase the pleasure within their relationships," said Bruce Weiss, vice president of marketing at Trojan.

This is what Simon Reed, 28, knew about that as he waited patiently for a vibrator with about 400 other people in Midtown: "My girlfriend sent me."

The Fifty phenom has also filled up Etsy with bondage crafts and is keeping Grey-maniacs at Pinterest busy. At Amazon, "Laters, Baby" wall decals with a handcuff motif are on sale, honoring one of Christian's fave farewells (stolen from his brother).

Wendy Ong, EMI's vice president of classics in the U.S., hasn't seen this kind of action in forever.

"Who would have thought classical music and 'Fifty Shades of Grey,' you know. It's a stretch, right, but it's actually a great partnership," she said. "It's amazing in this day and age for these books to be causing so much interest in classical music."

Not all classical music, mind you. The download and CD due out Sept. 11 on Capitol Records (owned by EMI) includes 15 tracks featured in the books, including the obscure "Tallis: Spem in Alium" by The Tallis Scholars, as in Chapter 25, Book One.

The recording as a single download climbed to No. 1 on iTunes in July for classical music in the UK and US.

Robert Pattinson hasn't read the books and told a Comic-Con crowd he would probably just lick the pages if he tried, but the newly solo actor showed up in a few shades of gray for the New York premiere Monday of his new movie, "Cosmopolis," and again to ring the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange.

R-Patz was in Gucci, but bespoke tailors Norton & Townsend back home in the UK came up with a line of menswear in Fifty-friendly shades of generous grey, guilty pleasure grey and gentle grey.

As for rope, one of Manhattan's largest and oldest hardware stores, Garber Hardware in the West Village, noted a 10 percent uptick in sales from about March — soon after the books took off — to July, compared with the same period a year ago.

"Anecdotally speaking, it would certainly be reasonable to attribute that to the Fifty Shades phenomenon," said Nathaniel Garber, the great-great-grandson of the store's founder. "I'm looking at my rope department right now and it's half empty, and it's been like that for the past few months."

Hmmmm.

Grey, by the way, should rethink his choice of rope — in the first book he requests five feet of natural filament during a trip to the hardware store where Ana works. Garber recommends a 12-gauge, non-braided nylon. "It's soft. Non-braided is also easier to tie," he said.

Sales are roof-raising for Babeland since all things Fifty took over. With three adult toy stores in New York, one in Seattle and a website, co-founder Claire Cavanah reports a 40 percent boost in business for bondage toys.

"Attendance at our free events where we offer sex tips for turning fantasies into reality based on the sex scenes in Fifty Shades of Grey has been overwhelming," she said.

At the first one, in Manhattan in May, 125 people showed up rather than the usual 25 to 30, Cavanah said. More than 400 signed up for a second event at the company's Brooklyn location. They added another session and stayed open two hours late to accommodate the crowd, she said.

Fifty has also been very, very good to Dana B. Myers, co-owner of the website Bootyparlor.com and wholesaler to about 400 sex shops around the country.

"I'm hearing everything from 26 to 32 percent increases in sales in the last three months," she said.

Among her biggest Fifty-driven sellers: the Good Girl, Bad Girl package sporting a blindfold, feather spanker, feather whipper and wrist cuffs, all in "animal-friendly" leatherette.

"I think what this phenomenon has done is to really legitimize the fact that sex is good, fantasies are healthy," she said. "This is not your mother's romance."

___

Follow Leanne Italie on Twitter at https://twitter.com/litalie

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