Fifty Shades tie-up will open bedroom doors for us in the United States, says Lovehoney co-founder Richard Longhurst.

America, let’s not forget, is a foreign country.

And they buy things differently there. Scan down Interbrand’s hit parade of the most valuable US and UK retail brands and you won’t see a single name on both lists.

Amazon is the only brand in the US top 10 that any of us Brits would recognise as a regular shopping destination.

Perhaps this partly explains why so many big British names have flopped when they’ve tried to make the trip across the Atlantic. Not only do UK companies have the challenge of understanding the American consumer and grappling with large-scale logistics, we have to build a brand all over again. Not many have the pockets or patience to see it through.

Lovehoney, the UK’s leading online retailer of sex toys, operates in a market where brands aren’t particularly prevalent. Take a moment to scribble down 10 US or UK manufacturers or retailers of sex products and I wouldn’t mind betting you don’t get much further than Trojan for the US, Durex and Ann Summers here (unless, of course, you’re what we at Lovehoney call a “free enlightened” consumer, in which case, I salute you). Do the same for trainers - sorry, sneakers - and your list will be a lot longer.

But in 2012, a new name in sex arrived - Fifty Shades of Grey. With 70 million books sold, 51 weeks (and counting) on the Washington Post best-seller list and three motion pictures in the works, Fifty Shades of Grey has become much more than a Kindle-cultivated erotic awakening. It’s a global phenomenon, a new erotic brand that sits squarely in the mainstream.

Lovehoney secured the exclusive worldwide rights to manufacture and distribute Fifty Shades of Grey sexual wellbeing products. This has given us a unique shortcut to the hearts, minds and (hopefully) bedrooms and wallets of consumers around the globe. Where competitors seeking international expansion have to build a name for themselves in new markets, we pitch up with a ready-made, instantly recognised global brand.

At the start of April we launched Fifty Shades of Grey - The Official Pleasure Collection in the US at the International Lingerie Show in Las Vegas (a tough trip, but somebody’s got to do it). Our range of vibrators, tie-up toys and spanking kits is now in adult stores across the US and is already making in-roads into the mainstream with a listing on Walgreens-owned Drugstore.com. That’s just the start. In June we will launch Fifty Shades of Grey - The Official Sensual Care Collection featuring personal lubricants, massage oil and condoms (Christian’s oft-reached-for “foil packet”). Fifty Shades of Grey Gift Sets will follow for Christmas and Valentine’s Day 2014.

The demand for sexual wellbeing products is growing. It’s a massive opportunity for retail and the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey effect’ has been acknowledged by our competitors. But as those retailers who have tried and failed in the US will testify, it’s the brand that makes the difference. Customers in the US and elsewhere aren’t just buying cola.

They want The Real Thing. Fifty Shades of Grey is it.

  • Richard Longhurst is co-founder of Lovehoney