Christina Aguilera’s Sexual Wellness Brand Is Rewriting the Playbook for Women

After pushing the boundaries of pop stardom, the singer has pivoted to founding Playground

In 2002, Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” video exploded on to MTV, changing everything for the artist.

In a blur of red leather chaps, dirt bikes, dancing, muscles and mud wrestling, Aguilera shed her bubblegum pop persona and pushed the boundaries of ’00s sexuality.

Over two decades on, Aguilera is rewriting the playbook for women once more, as co-founder and chief brand advisor for sexual wellness brand Playground—designed by women for women.

With its luxe range of lubricants and oils, the startup is putting the vagina—or as Aguilera describes it, a woman’s “power source, her epicenter”—at the forefront of its mission to liberate, encouraging women to embrace their bodies and experience pleasure.

“This has been a very comfortable and natural space for me to enter because [sexuality] has been such a big part of my life, my world, my music,” she told ADWEEK. “I’ve experienced firsthand the double standards [put on women]; and I’ve been shamed for being open, for expressing myself sexually and trying to own my body, and for trying to empower other women. People are afraid of that.”

Aguilera’s pivot into the sexual wellness arena isn’t just innate for an artist who brought us the scandalous Y2K spin on “Lady Marmalade” and made people clutch their proverbial pearls when she kissed Madonna at the 2003 VMAs; it makes business sense too.

With a compound annual growth rate of 7.6%, the sexual wellness market is poised to hit $64.3 billion globally by 2031, according to Straits Research, and it’s piquing investors’ interest.

Fashion, beauty and retail brands including Ulta Beauty and Sephora are planting their flags in this growing space. Their go-to-market strategies have centered around glossy editorial spreads and Instagram content, taking a page straight out of the beauty marketing playbook. New players are emerging too, like Lelo, the so-called “Apple of sex toys,” which targets Gen Z with vibrators and condoms, mainly via TikTok.

Showing the promise in this category, Playground closed its first round of seed funding in October 2023, led by Palm Tree Crew Holdings, Amboy Street Ventures and Fourward Ventures, with follow-ons from Goddess Fun-d LP and VHS.

To promote its products, Playground has favored playful marketing and a clever content strategy, designed to circumvent Big Tech’s censorship of sexual wellness brands. Aguilera, for example, recently rocked a vagina-shaped manicure to support the cause. Elsewhere, the company’s digital School of Sexology serves as a one-stop-shop for busting myths about orgasms, the female libido and intimacy.

Aguilera is committed to putting something in women’s hands that makes them feel good and shatters stigmas in the process. This bold sidestep into her wellness era builds on her legacy while showcasing what can happen when an artist lends more than just their face to a product.

This has been a very comfortable and natural space for me to enter because [sexuality] has been such a big part of my life, my world, my music.

—Christina Aguilera, co-founder and chief brand advisor, Playground

Brand in bloom

The idea for Playground began in 2021 after a friend of Aguilera’s introduced her to the company’s now-CEO Catherine Magee, a senior marketing exec who had previously guided beauty giants including Rodan + Fields and bareMinerals to success.

The pair quickly bonded over a mutual desire to help remove the taboos surrounding women’s sexuality, based on their own personal experiences.

“I couldn’t believe it when I met someone who enjoyed talking about sex as openly and fearlessly as I do,” said Aguilera. “[Catherine and I] shared a common goal of wanting to empower other women to feel the same, to pay attention to their bodies.”

These conversations evolved into a business plan, as stats were uncovered and swapped. For example, 6 out of 10 women struggle with arousal issues, sexual discomfort and vaginal dryness, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

To help translate this passion into something tangible and fill a spot in the market, Aguilera and Magee teamed up with Sandy Vukovic, best known for spearheading development for Marc Jacobs Beauty, Kat Von D, bareMinerals and Buxom Cosmetics, as chief product officer.

In a landscape where a celebrity creative director is the norm for brands, CEO Magee describes Aguilera as the “voice” of Playground rather than the face.

To date, the company’s marketing strategy has been rooted in content via social media and podcasts designed to “break the ice” with women about what happens between the sheets, noted Magee.

“We’ve learned through our research that women feel ashamed to talk about these things, or that they’re broken in some way if they need help in that department. We need to ditch that mindset,” she said. “One powerful voice in that is Christina.”

Genie out of the bottle

The brand went to market in June 2022 with a range of four personal water-based lubricants in sleek, peachy packaging intended to look as good on a nightstand as any cult beauty product.

Along with its design, the brand’s USP lies in its ingredients. Foregoing typical components associated with lube, such as parabens, petrochemicals and GMOs, this “Ultimate Libido” lineup includes what the company said are the first and only FDA-approved products in the category to star vegan-sourced fermented bamboo extract, ashwagandha and horny goat weed.

Why did the brand start here? Quite simply, because all three founders couldn’t believe a 120-year-old category was dominated by products Aguilera said have “mainly been made and packaged towards men, or for men and ‘their women.’”

“We wanted to make a product that showed women Playground was a safe space,” Aguilera continued.

Aguilera has promoted Playground on the only podcast she’s sat on to date (Alex Cooper’s Call Her Daddy). She’s also featured in conversations on YouTube and Instagram with Playground’s chief sexologist, Dr. Emily Morse. The artist then shares these chats with her 9.5 million Instagram followers, encouraging further conversation.

Smaller influencers play a huge role in the marketing mix too, posting reviews and unboxing videos across social.

For the brand, this genre of content is one way of circumventing Big Tech platforms’ stringent rules around sexual health content, which make it difficult for advertisers like Playground to overtly promote their products.

“The wellness space is being censored and treated like porn; we come up against it all the time,” said Magee, “even though [our product] is a medical device.”

To get around this, the brand works closely with platforms that understand its core purpose and has adopted a “big sister” tone, as the CEO describes it. The brand discusses issues about foreplay, sex and orgasms through the lens of health and wellness.

Playground’s current target audience is young women as well as couples. Like any beauty marketer worth their salt, Magee is aware that a magic combination of backed-by-science claims and sleek packaging goes a long way in selling products.

“We’re thoughtful about the ingredients in our formulation, as the best skin care or hair care business would be,” she explained.

The range is currently sold direct-to-consumer (DTC) and via retail partners including Amazon, Revolve and Urban Outfitters. It’s a “50-50 split” for now in terms of where sales are coming from, but that could change this spring, when Playground makes its debut on the shelves of another major U.S. retailer.

We’re thoughtful about the ingredients in our formulation, as the best skin care or hair care business would be.

—Catherine Magee, co-founder and CEO, Playground

“It’s important for us to be very judicious in picking retailers that align with our mission and our values,” Magee said, stopping short of the big reveal.

Ripping up the rule book

If you’re noticing a pattern, it’s that Aguilera has never quite played by the rules. Instead, she’s spent her career questioning why they exist in the first place and offering an alternative.

Aguilera was propelled to fame at the age of 12 on The Mickey Mouse Club, along with Ryan Gosling and Britney Spears. Her star soared in 1998 when she sang the theme song for Disney’s Mulan. Nineties hits like “Genie in a Bottle” and “Come On Over Baby” quickly followed. But as she entered her 20s, something changed.

“I came on the scene during a pop blowout, an explosion, and—along with others—I was placed in a bubble,” she told ADWEEK. “This box of what to do, what to say, was kind of programmed.”

After years observing the stereotypes placed on women artists around owning their bodies (both within the ranks of the industry and in the press), the star swapped out teen bops for a more nuanced sound in her 2002 album, Stripped. The record showcased her wide range, from vulnerable ballad “Beautiful” to feminist Lil’ Kim collab “Can’t Hold Us Down.” And, of course, “Dirrty.”

“There were a lot of strong messages in there,” Aguilera reflected. “Not everyone was ready to hear someone with a pop background coming from a more bold and honest perspective. But I don’t shy away from hard things.”

Playground stands on the shoulders of Stripped, designed from its core to embolden and champion its customers.

“[Women] go through a lot with their sexuality,” added Aguilera. “We’re shamed, we’re labeled, we’re scrutinized. It’s time for all that to end. That’s the future of this brand; it’s about opening doors for new conversations, [encouraging women] to take better care and have awareness for their bodies and themselves.”

The future of pleasure

In October 2023, Playground launched its first non-lube product, Mood Maker, a clean, pH-balanced intimacy oil designed to promote pleasure and support a healthy libido.

The vanilla-scented, vagina-safe formula can also be used as a daily skin softener for intimate areas.

Aguilera said the team wanted to create a product that would set the mood for more pleasurable moments of intimacy, either alone or with a partner, and promote a sexual self-care ritual.

Playground’s next move will be catering to women’s health needs based on their age. After all, a customer in her 20s might need a different formula than someone approaching menopause.

“We have so many important, playful ideas; the sky is the limit,” said Aguilera. “Expanding is always the goal, and encouraging this generation to talk about something our moms or grandmothers wish they had been able to.”

As for what’s next beyond the brand, life is busy. When she sat down with ADWEEK, the singer had just resumed her glittering Las Vegas artist residency at Voltaire, which was postponed in early January due to illness. She’s also a mom to two young kids, which is a big part of why she’s building this brand.

“I want [my daughter] to grow up not feeling any shame or stigma and feel comfortable as a woman. I want my son to understand and appreciate women’s struggles and what they go through, and to feel part of the conversation as well,” she said.

The artist is still very much working with other advertisers too, serving as an ambassador for delivery service Just Eat, as well as Lyft and Xeomin, an FDA-approved anti-wrinkle injection.

Her message to her younger self now that the genie is fully out of the bottle?

“Keep your voice, keep exploring, keep educating yourself and keep sharing. You will thank yourself,” she mused. “I’m so happy I’ve had the platform I have and that I’ve been able to stand behind the way I feel and own it. I’m all about encouraging other women to do that too.”

Source: AdWeek

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