*Sex Toy Web Site Adds Interactive Aid

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The taboo world of sex toys met the direct marketing industry this week as sensual enhancement retailer Xandria.com launched an interactive tool that aims to help customers find sexual toys on a more individualized basis.

Xandria, San Francisco, at the same time launched a multichannel holiday campaign in hopes of generating more user traffic to its Web site.

Xandria designed the interactive tool, the Personal Shopper, to allow customers to select desired products that better fit their needs. The Personal Shopper asks them an average of 10 questions on their experience with sexual toys, among other things, and suggests what it believes to be suitable products.

"Sex toys are a very personal thing," said Jocelyn Saurini, executive producer at Xandria. "When you're looking for a sex toy, you're looking for something that's an exact size and of exact texture."

Xandria, which displays more than 1,200 products on its Web site, also serves as a platform for users to find gifts for their partners.

In fact, in preparation for the holiday season, the company placed inserts in its parent company's catalog, The Xandria Collection, which was sent to 1.2 million people. The goal of the campaign, in which the inserts present screenshots of the Web site and list the benefits of shopping online, is to drive consumers to the Web site, Saurini said.

Xandria is planning to launch a similar drive early next year for Valentine's Day. Saurini expects that campaign to be somewhat easier because of the intimacy and romance already associated with the holiday. The forthcoming holiday season, on the other hand, presents the challenge of making consumers think of buying an intimate gift in the first place, let alone to purchase one at Xandria, she said.

"In some ways, Valentine's Day does some of its own marketing for us," Saurini said.

The privately owned company, which is projected to gross $10 million next year, also markets its products via e-mail. It delivers an opt-in bimonthly promotional newsletter that is delivered to approximately 14,000 users, Saurini said. The company sends out another newsletter, which also is bimonthly and goes out to approximately 25,000 users, that is more content-driven and features fewer promotions.

"I'm sure everyone has read 8 million studies about how online advertising doesn't work," Saurini said. "We feel those aren't accurate.

"You just need to target where you're doing your online advertising," she said.

Interestingly, Saurini said Xandria's online marketing efforts affect men and women differently. While response rates were not available, she said men tended to respond better to the promotional newsletters, whereas women seemed to be more responsive to the informational newsletters.

Gay customers were not affected either way by the newsletters, she said.

Xandria, however, faces many challenges marketing to its audience because of the nature of its products, Saurini said. The company, for instance, does not buy nor sell lists, which "makes it that much harder" to target prospective customers, she said.

Saurini also said Xandria does not use the Web site nor the catalog for prospecting. Xandria's catalog and online shoppers learn out about the company through print advertising, clicking on a banner ad or receiving e-mail from a friend telling them to visit the site, she said.

Additionally, the company's privacy policy assures customers that their information will not be shared with third parties, and offers them opt-in and opt-out selections throughout the Web site and in e-mails, Saurini said.

"We do all of this because our subject matter is sensitive and we aren't out there to offend anybody by sending them random materials," Saurini said. "We also try to emphasize confidentiality in all of our advertising and marketing."

Instead, Xandria relies heavily on viral marketing to drive customers to its Web site, Saurini said. For example, the company recently ran a promotion using "go cards," in which it placed 4 1/2-inch-by-6-inch cards in coffee shops and bars to generate Web traffic. The cards, which target young professionals, drive consumers to www.freeorgasm.org, a so-called jump site of Xandria, and offers them five free gifts -- or, as it's listed on the card, orgasms.

In exchange, Xandria is able to capture the customer's name and e-mail address and follow up with them in future promotional campaigns, Saurini said.

The Xandria Collection, meanwhile, has developed its million-plus database over a span of 25 years, Saurini said. The company advertised in publications, such as Redbook and The New Yorker, and offered readers coupons in exchange for free catalogs, she said.

In another viral marketing effort, Xandria recently partnered with Talkaboutsex.org, San Francisco, a Web site with chat rooms and message boards devoted to sexual issues, to create a "banner presence" on the site, Saurini said. In turn, Xandria provides Talkaboutsex with its hosting space, she said.

"Xandria benefits because [Talkaboutsex] is not as raunchy as other sex chat sites," Saurini said. "People who want to be in that environment are given a clear line as to where to go to stay in that environment and purchase."

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