SMAKK co-founder and CD Katie Klencheski explains how a new brand for Tabu explores new frontiers in sexual wellness for women over 50, transforming a cultural taboo into the lodestar of a science-backed sexual health routine.
Despite enormous strides for women's sexual health since the 2000s, sex remains a taboo subject when discussing women over 50: up to 90% experience pain or discomfort during sex due to hormonal and lifestyle changes, but only 25% seek medical help for their symptoms. As a result, nearly 50% give up on their sex lives, negatively impacting their self-esteem, relationships and overall health.
When Natalie Fretwell founded the sexual wellness brand, Tabu, she set out to improve these statistics with a solution that would honour women's bodies as they change – creating a sexual wellness routine with very real benefits. The brand's shop offers lubricants, vulva stimulators, and other tools designed to prioritise sexual wellness and its holistic benefit for women's lives as they age.
Looking to enter a new phase of growth and leadership in sexual wellness, Tabu partnered with branding and marketing agency SMAKK to better underscore its important mission. The result is a new identity that shines a light on how optimal sexual health, with or without a partner, isn't just a means to pleasure but an essential piece of long-term well-being.
Tabu brought in SMAKK to help create a new brand identity, packaging and e-commerce website for Tabu's premium, science-backed sexual wellness kit as well as various upcoming new product launches. This meant reshaping the brand to be more approachable, dignified and credible in order to deconstruct the notion that sexual health has an expiration date.
"We saw the potential to bring sophistication, discretion and credibility to a product category known for being anything but – typically marketed by way of brazen eroticism and cheeky innuendo," explained SMAKK founder Katie Klencheski. "So, when it came to shining a light on an important but often overlooked piece of the wellness puzzle, we knew it was right in our sweet spot." For this expansive effort, SMAKK led a complete reimagining of the brand strategy and creative, including the visual identity, messaging, packaging, e-commerce design and development.
Aesthetically, the new identity is artfully unapologetic in that it illustrates and talks about sexual wellness, with a bold wordmark as well as icons and illustrations informed by scientific diagrams you might find in a textbook. Leveraged together, these elements deftly communicate complex sexual wellness topics and ideas in a way that feels necessary and credible rather than taboo or shameful. The typography throughout the brand finds a similar balance, using a headline style with beautiful femininity paired with a more utilitarian monospace.
"The way we imagined data visualisation for this brand is unique in the space," contends SMAKK's Klencheski, pointing out her team's use of visual strategies to elevate the topic of sexual wellness in a way that feels credible and highly scientific without losing the luxurious femininity that sets Tabu apart.
She offered an example: "the monospaced body type mixed with the thin linework that connects the different text blocks within a grid feels conclusive and trustworthy. It emulates diagrams you might find in a textbook or scientific publication – signalling that sexual wellness is just as important a conversation as the topics more typically found in those environments." Those elements mixed with a much larger scale effeminate serif headline, usually used for typesetting stats and/or numbers, create a really important balance within the type system and how it visualises education and data.
The packaging is also noteworthy, combining smooth, satin, glossy materiality and a meticulously designed unboxing journey that transitions from a minimal, pared-back shipping box to the much bolder and more luxurious aesthetic choices inside. It speaks to the conceptual balance of intimacy and honesty we were trying to achieve with the brand.
Klencheski told Creative Boom that the packaging design isn't just beautiful to look at but plays an important role in balancing necessary discretion with taboo-breaking honesty. "For the packaging, it was important to the client and consumer that the outermost packaging remained discreet, acknowledging that this is a 'taboo"' D2C product arriving at your doorstep."
But once the customer begins unwrapping and unboxing, each new element inside delivers something bold and unapologetic. Klencheski explains: "The lux bag that is meant to keep your wellness routine together and clean is a deep orange velvet. Inside it, you find each product housed in a box full of educational materials on ingredients, use cases, and routine-building activities. The whole packaging experience is meant to make whoever comes across it feel empowered, educated, and excited to be on their own sexual wellness journey."
Meanwhile, the brand messaging is honest but dignified, presenting Tabu's benefits through a science and health-centred lens that also doesn't hide its irreverent 'Use It Or Lose It' attitude. These complementary choices ground Tabu and its ethos in dependable trustworthiness without losing all of its delicacy and grace.
No stranger to sexual wellness brand-building, SMAKK drew insights from their previous work with boutique e-tailer Wild Flower, a project requiring an inclusive understanding of the diverse audiences using their products.
"With Tabu, we realised that there was a similarly wide range of people we had to engage - those in relationships and those not, those who have used a personal massager before and those who haven't, those who are embarrassed at the mere mention of one and those who aren't, and a range of life stages where one would need to use a sexual wellness kit," adds SMAKK Chief Strategy Officer Anna Kavaliunas. "We had to be empathetic and consider things like accessibility in design elements and typography, discrete packaging that still felt premium, and a strong science story to support the health aspect. We also had to think about women who had just had a baby, were going through a dry spell or even cancer treatment."
SMAKK's thoughtful approach ultimately succeeds in educating about the science of sexual health but positions the brand as a disruptor in a category usually associated with feelings of shame. "We were excited by Tabu's mission and inspired by the opportunity to be a part of an inclusive movement," says Klencheski.
"This brand empowers women to not only embrace but prioritise their sexual well-being regardless of where they are in their reproductive years, and we're proud to help them lead this important conversation."
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