Innovation

Fifty Shades of Grey: Target and the other unlikely companies making money off the salacious book

Myriam Robin /

Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James’ trilogy started as self-published erotic fan fiction. She wrote the series with no commercial backing of any kind.

But today, Fifty Shades is big business.

Last week, Target launched a new advertising campaign for its Fifty Shades of Grey-inspired lingerie line, which will be in stores from the end of the month.

Sally Shing, Target Australia underwear general manager, said in a statement: “The brand is an enigma that continues to captivate women, and this collection channels ideas of romance into the evocative lingerie range.”

It’s not the only company to invest in the franchise.

In August last year, James brought on New York firm Caroline Mickler Limited to help manage the myriad licensing opportunities she was being bombarded with. The result has been a steady roll-out of products, which are likely to get another sales boost once the movie is released in August 2014.

And that’s not even counting the unlicensed spinoffs, of which there have been many.

For companies who don’t sell lingerie or sex toys, it might seem hard to tie-in to the books’ success. However, it’s certainly been done. Here are some of the more creative ways companies have cashed in:

Imagination

Adelaide-based entrepreneur Shane Yeend, famous for his Battle of the Sexes board game, snagged the rights to the Fifty Shades of Grey party game in November last year.

He told SmartCompany then that pre-orders for the game, released by his board-game company Imagination, were “phenomenal”.

“We can’t print enough games to fulfil the demand, it’s equal to the hottest property we’ve ever dealt with,” he said.

“It took me a couple of times to convince E. L. James to do it and now it is doing extremely well, it was a 20-day turnaround from idea to shelves in three countries,” he says.

It wasn’t easy to get the rights. Yeend was knocked back twice before he got a “maybe”. His persistence has paid off though. By February this year, the game had sold 50,000 copies in America and 25,000 in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Random House

When Fifty Shades went into print, Random House secured the rights.

But it didn’t stop there.

Last November, the publisher also released Fifty Shades of Chicken, by an unknown author writing under the pen-name F.L. Fowler.

The parody/cookbook follows the adventures of Miss Chicken, “a young free-range, from raw innocence to golden brown ecstasy”.

“Like Anastasia Steele, Miss Chicken finds herself at the mercy of a dominating man, in this case, a wealthy, sexy and very hungry chef.”

Random House posted record profits last year based on the success of the original, which sold 70 million copies in 2012.

Bobbi Brown

While not a licensed manufacturer of Fifty Shades merchandise, cosmetics giant Bobbi Brown has borrowed liberally from the books.

Its new Come-Hither eye shadow line features nothing but numerous shades of grey.

In case that’s too subtle, the brand also includes a tagline that should leave their inspiration in no doubt: when did Grey get so naughty?

DRS and Associates

DRS and Associates is a luxury marketing and PR firm based in Los Angeles.

Some of their clients sell high-end kitchen and bath fittings, so DRS did what any good marketer would do and set about adding the word ‘50 shades’ to their greyer lines.

“We don’t always get a chance to connect our clients’ brands to current day entertainment or news,” said DRS founder and chairman David Schlocker. “But when we do, tie us down and hold us back!”

“We’re not trying to make connections to the more risqué elements of the book, however from a design perspective, these products are certainly evocative and sexy – we of course don’t mind if our materials conjure up other sensations or feelings. The phenomenon of E.L. James’ bestseller has simply been used by us to spur more interest in black, grey and white design palettes, and this is a fun and relevant way to package architectural and interior design products.”

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Myriam Robin

Myriam Robin is a reporter for SmartCompany and its sister site LeadingCompany. She has degrees in economics, international studies and journalism. She likes writing about businesses taking risks and doing new things.

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