Grandma’s Vagisil isn’t cutting it for Generation Z.
For the youngest consumer set, products in the intimate- and feminine-care categories are nothing to be brown-bagged or whispered about—they’re simply one piece of a total wellness routine. But the drugstore brands that Millennials and Gen Xers have been surreptitiously purchasing since puberty don’t resonate with the TikTok generation, who are more informed, open-minded and unself-conscious about sexuality than any previous generation.
“Gen Z in general is a much more progressive demographic and much more progressive around gender identity,” said Cecilia Gates, founder of Gates Creative. “Brands have to approach [sex-related product] through the lens of inclusivity and diversity. It’s no longer a one-size-fits-all approach. And it’s not just about a package or product looking cool, they want products that are multipurpose, clean ingredients, sustainable and they want affordable.”
For brands in the sexual-wellness and feminine-care categories, Gen Z represents a significant growth opportunity. According to Mintel, Gen Z women overindex in use of sexual enhancement products, such as vibrators and lubricants, while young women ages 18 to 34 are driving growth in feminine hygiene. At retailers such as Urban Outfitters and Revolve, the latest entrants to the wellness vertical are biodegradable vibrators and herbal PMS supplements.
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“[Gen Z is] invested in the concept of health and wellness and sex falls in there,” said Catharine Dockery, founding partner of Vice Ventures, a seed stage venture capital fund that has invested in sexual wellness company Maude and inclusive underwear brand Parade.
“Sex sells now much more than ever, specifically for Gen Z — they’re very open about their body and what they stand for,” she adds. “They’re not scared to buy a vibrator and use it and rate it online. If you asked my mother-in-law, she’d never tell me that she bought a vibrator and she’d definitely never go rate it online.”
For Gen Z, talking about sex is not taboo. They get sexual health advice from dancing gynecologists on TikTok (yes, it’s really a thing), and see underwear selfies not as vulgar or pornographic, but as empowering and coming from a place of wanting to support a brand that aligns with their values. Dockery notes that after Parade’s launch earlier this spring, about 1 in 5 customers — primarily in the Gen Z age range — posted an underwear selfie to Instagram.
“I posted a photo [of myself to social media] in Fenty by Rihanna because it’s size-inclusive,” said Maia Ervin, chief of staff at JUV consulting. “My mom would be like, ‘That’s too provocative,’ but why is me showing off this brand standing up for plus-sized women provocative?”
“They’ve eliminated the stigma around sex and they are more open,” added Gates. “We have to think about sexual wellness as more for yourself than having to live up to ideals about what the media has put forth around gender roles — that feels outdated to them.”
Mitch Orkis, cofounder and chief marketing officer of sexual wellness brand Cake, was inspired to start a line of lubricants after seeing a a wave of lube launches aimed at Millennials enter the market over the past few years. Gen Z has become a “big audience” for Cake since its launch earlier in the summer.
Cake’s lubricants are tailored to gender and sexual preferences. For example, Tush Cush, $22, is a water-based jelly for “beginners butt stuff” while Motion Lotion, also $22, is described as “a moisturizing cream for men’s me time play.”
“A lot of brands in the past five years wanted to be all-inclusive and I think that all-inclusive to them meant, ‘Let’s not say who we are, let’s not address it so we can say we’re inclusive,’ and we’ve found the opposite is true for [Gen Z],” said Orkis, who noted that many of the brand’s customers identify as queer or sexually fluid and want something tailored in a hyper specific way to their own identify and preferences.
What’s been key for reaching Gen Z is having an optimized mobile shopping experience, he adds. “Ninety-one percent of our traffic is on mobile,” said Orkis. Having everything designed and the ability to be purchased with one swipe or click is like — you have to do it. Long funnels, which I think companies still have, don’t work at all.”
As niche sexual-wellness and feminine-care brands tailored to Gen Z continue to launch, legacy drugstore brands have struggled to remain relevant to young consumers. Product preferences are also changing, as young consumers prioritize sustainability and natural ingredients. Mintel reports that 10 percent of Gen Z are using period cups instead of pads or tampons, the largest group of any other consumer set.
Several legacy labels have embarked on ambitious re-branding initiatives aimed at young consumers, from Vagisil to Playtex to Summers Eve. Vagisil recently launched a line of intimate-care products aimed at teens called OMV!.
Midol, the 109-year-old brand known for its period symptom pills, launched its re-brand in April, complete with new branding, packaging social media presence, content and a tweaked distribution strategy focusing on online purchase.
“We were struggling with recognition and brand awareness with younger women. Women in their forties grew up with Midol, but we need to appeal to a younger woman and talk to her differently as well,” said Lisa Perez, marketing director, Bayer Aspirin and Women’s Health.
Before the re-brand, Midol’s social strategy was “fairly nonexistent” said Perez. Now, the brand has a YouTube channel and works with microinfluencers.
Midol’s new branding is bold yellow and hot pink and features a graphic new font, a far cry from its previous Nineties-era, pharmaceutical-chic pack.
“[Gen Z] is very focused on Instagram,” said Dockery, a Millennial who called out Queen V, a feminine wellness line sold at Target and Walmart that is known for its graphic neon look, as an ideal brand made for Gen Z Instagram. “I can guarantee you Queen V has been Instagrammed a ton of times. My generation isn’t like, Instagramming Vagisil.”
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