How do you get your kicks? In the first in a regular series of culture decodes, Crowd DNA's Bridget Dalton examines changing representations of women’s pleasure, through the perspective of one brand in particular: audio streaming service Dipsea...
Pleasure is a universal aspiration, but how it’s represented is often culturally determined. For a long time brands have been signalling pleasure through formulaic cues (oozing chocolate cake, anyone?), so we thought we’d get past the repetition and use semiotics to decode the emergent ways that brands are communicating pleasure – through the perspective of one brand in particular: Dipsea.
In the West, a very brief history of pleasure reveals how it was traditionally defined by Christian ideas of good and evil. Bodily indulgence was framed as sinful, and therefore shameful. Following these morality lines, pleasure is still often viewed as overly sexual, secretive and naughty – ice cream is bad; perfume is mysterious; and sex is either a fuzzy, saccharine affair or the deep, dark functionality of Pornhub.
Dipsea – an audio streaming service specialising in erotic short stories to empower women – looks beyond these traditional signifiers of sexual desire. The brand is working hard to renegotiate the cues of pleasure by emphasising self love and removing the all too frequent suggestion of female transgression.
As we’ll see, the app actually shares its visual identity with much less kinky sources of pleasure – such as beauty apps, FMCG brands and liberal politics. This close semiotic relationship between an intimate brand and seemingly unrelated categories can tell us a lot about the new narratives of pleasure resonating with millennial generations. We explore three of these new codes of pleasure below.
Pleasure as tasteful and safe
Dipsea’s gender neutral block colours provide tastefully modern, carefully curated contrasts. In the context of pleasure in the #MeToo era, it’s interesting to observe how the uniform tone and lack of depth work to limit any sense of mystery or unknown; this is a very safe type of sensuality. The absence of shadow suggests the absence of menace and again codes pleasure as a secure space, not a risky romp to the dark side. This sense of safety represents an important shift away from the dark colours and hints of violence (fluffy handcuffs, Fifty Shades Of Grey) often associated with sex and sex products.
Pleasure as important and trustworthy
Historically, serif typefaces and capital letters were to be found in sombre, authoritarian spaces such as banks and museums. Today, they’re commonly used by liberal institutions such as London’s Southbank Centre and The Guardian. More recently still, these font styles are also found in more indulgent spaces, such as personal care and television (eg Treatwell and Netflix’s The Politician). Dipsea’s use of the font follows this lineage and codes pleasure as deserving of respect and trust. It’s serious business and, rather than hidden and private, pleasure deserves a platform and can even be a source of pride.
Pleasure as fluid and complex
Finally, Dipsea’s use of secondary and tertiary colours arranged in amorphous shapes code pleasure as complex and natural. The way the organic shapes in the Dipsea app and comms flow over the edge of the images reinforces that desire is fluid and unbound. Here, discovery and exploration are possible beyond the standard perimeters of pleasure. This helps Dispea communicate another important shift: that pleasure can be found in experimentation and beyond the traditional binaries of gender and monogamy.
Altogether, these three codes demonstrate how modern pleasure is coming out of the guilt-ridden, shadows of darkness into the light of empowered nuance. By decoding brands like Dispea at the forefront of cultural change, we can learn to speak the new language of intimacy, sex, and human connection. Pleasure is a human right for all of us, and semiotics helps us understand how to effectively communicate it in an ever-changing cultural context.
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