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50 Shades of Grey marketing phenom goes mainstream

Thursday - 8/16/2012, 12:30pm  ET

By LEANNE ITALIE
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - You've bought rope for that special someone, picked up a few sex toys and read those "Fifty Shades of Grey" books a time or three. You know who you are.

Well, no need to skulk about at naughty shops or the hardware store as Fifty Shades of Consumption makes it further into the mainstream.

Stuart Weitzman and Marc New York have Grey-struck campaigns in the fat September issues of fashion magazines, the former touting black stilettos and high, Anastasia Steele-worthy boots called "Fifty Fifty," named not for the blockbuster bondage books but equal parts leather and stretch.

"Stuart has always known that people just think shoes. They daydream shoes. They lust after shoes 24/7," said Susan Duffy, Weitzman's senior vice president of marketing. "It's almost like `Fifty Shades of Grey.' People want 50 pairs of shoes. It's a love affair."

EMI Music is feeling the love. It's putting out "Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album" next month in partnership with E L James herself, ahead of the British writer's first visit to the Pacific Northwest locales where her hunky gazillionaire Christian Grey and his new-to-kink love interest dwell.

While James goes about remedying that geographical blip on her resume, she let loose Monday with her first licensing agreements for a range of products in North America.

Coming soon: official Fifty stockings and garters and printed tights. Undies and jammies and robes. T-shirts and knit tops and hoodies.

Add those to a slew of parody books, many self-published, beauty giant Bobbi Brown's new set of "Come-Hither Shades" for eyes in, yes, grays and marketing references and tie-ins for everything from iPad covers to bathroom fixtures. There's even a critical reader's guide, "Lighter Shades of Grey," that counts the number of times Ana mutters "Oh my."

These days, we're all Fifty Shades of somethin'.

"We don't always get a chance to connect our clients' brands to current day entertainment or news. But when we do, tie us down and hold us back!" said David R. Schlocker, founder and president of DRS and Associates, a luxury marketing and PR firm in Los Angeles for architectural, interior design and building clients.

The company recently pitched "Shades of Gray" kitchen and bath decor, including a Laufen washbasin with seductive curves and edgy Graff faucets in a brushed nickel.

Grey-sessed consumers have kept the books atop best-seller lists for more than 25 weeks, shot pre-orders for the EMI album to the top of classical picks on iTunes and Amazon _ and breathlessly lobbied online for their choices to play Christian and Ana in the movie.

Meanwhile, Town & Country magazine bares a teaser on its September cover, "50 Shades of Rockefeller," for a story about a great-great-granddaughter of John D. and her new book, apropos of nothing more than the fresh-faced lexicon.

Trojan, the condom guys, had hundreds lining up for free vibrators last week on the streets of Manhattan, using "pleasure carts" like the ones for selling hot dogs. The crowds were so big the city shut them down temporarily, until the company procured the proper permits. Trojan doled out 10,000 vibrators over two days.

While Trojan has been selling vibrators since 2009, first-quarter sales this year _ around the time the Fifty books hit it big _ were up about 14 percent from the same quarter a year before, according to Nielsen.

"Thanks in part to the rise of pop culture hits such as `Fifty Shades of Grey' and `Sex and the City,' many consumers are looking for products to help add some spice and increase the pleasure within their relationships," said Bruce Weiss, vice president of marketing at Trojan.

This is what Simon Reed, 28, knew about that as he waited patiently for a vibrator with about 400 other people in Midtown: "My girlfriend sent me."

The Fifty phenom has also filled up Etsy with bondage crafts and is keeping Grey-maniacs at Pinterest busy. At Amazon, "Laters, Baby" wall decals with a handcuff motif are on sale, honoring one of Christian's fave farewells (stolen from his brother).

Wendy Ong, EMI's vice president of classics in the U.S., hasn't seen this kind of action in forever.

"Who would have thought classical music and `Fifty Shades of Grey,' you know. It's a stretch, right, but it's actually a great partnership," she said. "It's amazing in this day and age for these books to be causing so much interest in classical music."

Not all classical music, mind you. The download and CD due out Sept. 11 on Capitol Records (owned by EMI) includes 15 tracks featured in the books, including the obscure "Tallis: Spem in Alium" by The Tallis Scholars, as in Chapter 25, Book One.

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