Sex show to target mainstream audience

Having researched the subject extensively, through both telephone surveys and man-in-the-street interviews, Zeev Landesberg now feels he can say, with some degree of confidence, that a lot of people are interested in sex. Granted, it's not like he ever really doubted...

Having researched the subject extensively, through both telephone surveys and man-in-the-street interviews, Zeev Landesberg now feels he can say, with some degree of confidence, that a lot of people are interested in sex.

Granted, it’s not like he ever really doubted that fact before. But if your whole life revolved around producing something called The Everything To Do With Sex Show…well, you’d probably want to make doubly sure, too.

The former head of Reed Exhibition Companies, one of the largest exposition firms in Canada, Landesberg now operates his own independent production company, Concord, Ont.-based Free Land Marketing. The Everything To Do With Sex Show, Free Land’s inaugural production, is scheduled to take place in October at the Automotive Building of Toronto’s Exhibition Place.

Now, before you get all hot and bothered, understand this: Despite what the name implies, Everything To Do With Sex will not feature Live Nude Girls!! or anything else likely to offend the sensibilities of Mr. and Mrs. Suburbia. In fact, Mr. and Mrs. Suburbia are the folks Landesberg is hoping will shell out 13 bucks a head for tickets.

With open discussion of sex growing ever more socially acceptable – a phenomenon brought about, in part, by the advent of AIDS – Landesberg has concluded that the time is ripe for a sex-oriented consumer showcase targeted squarely at a mainstream audience.

The roster of exhibitors will encompass a wide range of companies whose products or services relate, in some fashion, to sex and romance. That includes, of course, marketers of adult videos, erotic literature and sex toys – but it also includes those who sell lingerie, swimwear, cosmetics and fragrances, bedding, health club memberships, exotic holiday packages and so on.

‘Ours is a lifestyle, self-improvement type of event,’ Landesberg says. ‘We’re talking about those things that put you in a romantic state of mind. We’re not going to have pornography. You’re not going to find anything much more erotic than turning on your TV and watching Friends on a Thursday night.’

Indeed, Landesberg estimates that only about 25% of the exhibitors will be promoting ‘spicier’ offerings – and those firms will be required to abide by strict terms and conditions: no nudity, and no erotic material openly displayed on the show floor.

‘The formula for success in the show industry is relatively simple,’ Landesberg says. ‘You need to have a large pool of prospective exhibitors, and a subject matter interesting enough to attract a large audience. If we were to focus on doing a large-scale sex show devoted strictly to adult videos and vibrators and things like that, the Canadian market just wouldn’t be big enough to support it. But by going horizontal and looking at everything that in some shape or form is related to sex or romance – suddenly I’ve got tens of thousands of potential exhibitors.’

Landesberg is by no means going purely on instinct here. Indeed, Free Land devoted more than nine months to preliminary research and planning, before putting cash on the barrelhead and booking the Automotive Building. Approximately 350 potential exhibitors were surveyed, along with members of the general public, to gauge the level of interest in such an event. And the response was encouraging.

Not surprisingly, consumers in the 19-29 age range expressed enthusiasm for the show concept. But Landesberg says the 50-plus audience also showed considerable interest.

‘That’s understandable,’ he says. ‘When you’re over 50, you’re an empty-nester, you’re probably travelling more, doing more with your significant other, and you’re much more comfortable with yourself. As a result, the interest in sex and sex-related matters heightens.’

Official attendance projections for the show are in the 50,000 range, although a turnout of twice that number is not out of the question. Ticket sales are being handled by Ticketmaster Canada.

As for exhibitors, Free Land had signed on approximately 130 by late February. Landesberg says the goal is to treat these companies as partners, working closely with each one to help make the most of its presence on the show floor.

‘With some of the well-established shows, complacency seems to set in,’ he says. ‘The attitude is: ‘Why bother helping that exhibitor? If they leave, I’ve got a waiting list of 27 others that want to come in.’ But as a start-up, we’re a little hungrier. So we have to take that extra step, to make it easier for companies to participate, and to help those that are looking to create something new in terms of their image and their approach to the marketplace.’

In addition to the consumer portion of the show, Free Land is creating a ‘trade-only’ pavilion – a cordoned-off area where manufacturers and distributors can showcase their products to retailers and other potential business-to-business clients.

On the whole, the Everything To Do With Sex concept seems to hold real promise, says Tom Davidson, chief executive officer of exhibitor Nisim International, a Toronto-area manufacturer of hair care products. ‘It’s definitely out of the ordinary,’ he says. ‘But it’s being handled in a tasteful and mainstream way.’

Nisim, which traditionally has sold its product through hair salons, is looking to expand its channels of distribution, and sees the show as a prime opportunity. (And, since one of its major products – a ‘hair inhibitor’ – is frequently used for, ahem, genital waxing, there’s a logical thematic fit.)

Signing on with an untried property is, obviously, a ‘roll-the-dice’ proposition, Davidson says. ‘But often the things you least expect are the ones that turn up the best results.’

‘Sometimes you have to be the first to try something new,’ agrees Philippa Sharpe, managing director of POW (Promotions or Whatever), a Toronto-based promotional agency representing several prospective exhibitors. ‘People tend to go into the same shows again and again. A brand new property can be an exciting place to showcase a new and unique property to its best advantage.’

Until June, Free Land’s primary focus will be on recruiting exhibitors. After that, Landesberg plans an extensive campaign in print and broadcast to build consumer awareness of the event. (A Web site –, naturally – is also up and running. In addition to a hotlink with Ticketmaster, Landesberg is planning to introduce links to prime exhibitors, and ultimately a virtual counterpart to the show itself.)

Inevitably, there are significant challenges associated with trying to get a brand new trade or consumer show off the ground. Many prospective exhibitors, Landesberg says, prefer to hold off until an event has established some kind of track record. (‘They think, ‘I’ll just go and walk the floor the first year – and then, if I like what I see, I may exhibit next year.”) And, in this particular case, there are some companies reluctant to associate themselves in any way with the ‘s’ word – no matter how vanilla the presentation of it.

Still, Landesberg is confident that he’s selling a property with universal appeal.

‘I keep seeing people’s initial reaction to the concept,’ he says. ‘It puts a smile on their faces. It intrigues them, and they want to learn more about it. They’re receptive, because everybody understands the power of the word ‘sex.”

Also in this report:

- Resistance is futile: Whether the trade show industry likes it or not, the Internet is changing the exhibition business p.19

- Playdium creates order from chaos: Placed-based entertainment company builds excitement with ever-changing graphic displays p.24

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