Despite its latest campaign upsetting M&S, Ann Summers boss Jacqueline Gold has no plans to tone down the retailer’s tongue-in-cheek appeal.
Jacqueline Gold found herself on the naughty step last week. Having launched the Ann Summers S&M Squeal Deal - a parody of Marks & Spencer’s famous Meal Deal - she was hastily forced to pull the campaign after the threat of legal action.
The Squeal Deal, featuring a starter, main course and dessert made up of a mix of lingerie and sex toys, failed to tickle the M&S camp and its boss Marc Bolland. But by then the campaign had served its purpose anyway, and created stacks of publicity for Ann Summers.
The queen of whips and PVC never meant any harm. “We didn’t go out to offend,” she says. “I thought he [Bolland] would take it in good humour. There’s no harm intended, it’s tongue-in-cheek.”
Gold is no stranger to controversy. At the age of 21 she was arrested for handing out Ann Summers catalogues at a trade show as they were deemed too raunchy; she has taken the Government to court for banning her from advertising for staff in job centres when they said the retailer was part of the sex trade; and she’s even received a bullet in the post in opposition to a store opening in Dublin. “I still went to the opening. It’s now one of our top three performing stores,” she says.
Gold’s father - publishing magnate and current co-owner of West Ham United David Gold - got her hooked on the family business when she did work experience as a teenager in the fledgling sex shop Ann Summers.
It was no surprise she wanted to join the family business. She was always fiercely ambitious - at age 13 she set up a business designing crossword puzzles for 50p - and is very family-oriented. She prides herself on Ann Summers still feeling like a family.
The four-store chain was a far cry from the 150-store retailer it is today. “Everything was focused to men - the product, the store, even the sales staff were men. Only 10% of our customers were women. They felt uncomfortable shopping there,” remembers Gold.
All that changed when Gold had her lightbulb moment after a visit to a tupperware party. She spoke to the women there who told her they wanted sexy underwear and sex toys but did not want to go into a seedy shop to buy it.
And so the infamous Ann Summers party was born. “All of a sudden there was a girls club,” she says. “Men can have their Masons or whatever and women have Ann Summers parties. It made it special and began the process of liberating women in the bedroom.”
‘Everyone is doing sexy now. Retailers are looking at what we’re doing, be it Debenhams, Marks & Spencer or La Senza.’
Jacqueline Gold, Ann Summers
As the party plan business took off, Gold decided there was scope to re-open the high street stores, which had all closed. But this time it would be different, it would be female friendly. Integral to this was its tongue-in-cheek advertising. “We’re daring, cheeky and do things with tongue-in-cheek wit,” she says.
Gold thinks developing Ann Summers sparked a cultural revolution and empowered women. “In a modest way, it was stimulated by us. Everything was for men until then. Ann Summers offered something for the girls and things started to change.”
Gold also thinks the retailer has had enormous influence on the high street pinpointing retailers such as Liberty, Selfridges and Boots, which are all selling or have tried to sell sex toys.
“Everyone is doing sexy now. Retailers are looking at what we’re doing, be it Debenhams, Marks & Spencer or La Senza,” she says.
Outside of work Gold manages her time between looking after her two-year-old daughter Scarlett and her other great love, her father’s club West Ham, of which she is a lifelong fan. “I’ve always supported them. My gran ran a sweet shop on Green Street [the location of West Ham’s stadium].”
Her football-watching may be cut short over the next few years as she prepares for her next big challenge - taking Ann Summers overseas. “There’s a huge opportunity for us internationally. The US and Australia would really get our sense of humour. We’d do very well in Europe too.”
So perhaps Gold is already busy thinking up cheeky campaigns parodying the likes of Bloomingdale’s or Galeries Lafayette.
Lives Westerham, Kent with her husband Dan and two-year-old daughter Scarlett
Last holiday St Barts
Strangest customer request Whether Ann Summers sells glow-in-the-dark Rampant Rabbits
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