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Swing time

By The Drum | Administrator

October 26, 2004 | 6 min read

It’s just two hours until Adline interviews Neil Armstrong-Nash – co-founder of Liberation, one of the UK’s most popular swinging venues – and the jibes have already begun to commence. “Will Adline be putting its car keys into a Pyrex dish?” asks one rather enthusiastic colleague, while another suggests we ask him if he thought (Channel 4’s) Wife Swap was a big disappointment. Like any sex-related topic that deviates from social norms, swinging has become the victim of the kind of humour usually reserved for a Carry On movie. Whether Sid, Babs, Kenneth and Joan swung themselves is unclear, what is apparent, however, is that aside from the jokes and sniggers, lies an industry that’s worth a large wad of money.

Fast-forward two hours and Adline is enjoying a rather open and frank discussion with its interviewee. Needless to say, the desire to take the advice of colleagues has yet to present itself and Adline is keen to find out about how Amstrong-Nash and his wife, Liane, are aiming to be a big success.

With Liberation less than a year old, the firm has announced plans to roll the brand out nationally and to open a new hotel venue in London (not to mention further hotels in the next few years). Explaining how his brainchild was conceived, Armstrong-Nash reveals: “My wife and I have been involved in swinging for a number of years and when we first started going to swinging venues, we discovered that what was on offer didn’t reflect the people who were attending. We were meeting similarly professional people yet the venues seemed a little sleazy. These places were reinforcing the widely held stereotypes of swinging and there was clearly a gap in the market. There was certainly a demand for an upmarket establishment, where likeminded couples could feel comfortable.”

Judging by the ease and confidence with which Armstrong-Nash talks about his once hobby and now livelihood, being comfortable is clearly high on the list of priorities for the couple. He adds: “Customer service is the key. When people walk through the door, they walk into a hotel bar and restaurant. Liane and myself are hosts and really work hard to ease any fears people may have. We’re more of a social venue for adults, who perhaps feel uncomfortable in the mainstream bars and clubs. The swinging aspect is perhaps less important.”

This hands on (ahem) approach to running the business is clearly stimulating the minds, and maybe even the libidos of those who swing that particular way. It’s this service-led approach, which is at the forefront of Liberation’s marketing strategy. Armstrong-Nash pinpoints word of mouth as the key contributor in finding new members, although a heavy PR campaign – courtesy of Mustard Life in Buckinghamshire – is helping to ensure that any gaps in people’s knowledge on the subject of swinging are left satisfyingly filled.

“So far, we have also relied heavily on our database. We have a large number of members and potential members to whom we can market directly. We also have a marketing consultant on board, who has helped to lay down the strategy and produces copy for communications materials.”

Liberation, which sits rather idyllically in the town of Lutterworth in Leicestershire, was launched on Valentine’s Day this year, with a swanky black-tie ball. Since then, the company has increased its membership to over a thousand, 90 per cent of which are couples.

“At the moment, we are a lot smaller an operation than what we would like to be. That’s the reason for the launch of the brand across the country and the second hotel in London.”

The decision also follows an extensive research project courtesy of research firm YouGov, which revealed that there are over one million swingers in the UK and that one in ten couples have given swinging serious consideration. However, commissioning the research wasn’t any easy task. “Several research companies refused to work on the project because of fears about the product. Firms are happy to complete surveys about sex for the likes of Durex and other sex-related products, but just turned down the opportunity to research swinging.”

YouGov’s research also revealed that swinging is a fast growing market, and even at the younger end, up to 14 per cent said they were either involved or seriously interested in swinging. “When it comes to swinging, there are really three camps that people fall into,” says Armstrong-Nash. “There’s the group that find it repulsive and weird and really don’t want to know, there’s those who are active swingers and then there’s the group who understand it but either feel they want to know more or feel it’s not for them. We’re really only interested in the last two groups of people. We’re not trying to change people’s perceptions.”

In order to successfully roll out the brand across the UK and to launch the new hotel, Armstrong-Nash admits the marketing kitty is bulging. A result of this will see Liberation search for outside help. “We won’t be looking for a traditional agency, which would simply apply its traditional strategy model to our brand. We want a team that will understand the product and deliver something very different.

“There are magazines that we could use for advertising to potential members, but we won’t be doing that. We are unique and different and as such, we want to get away from the image of traditional swingers clubs.”

Liberation has several methods for maintaining its edge, most of which rest at the clientele it attracts. “While legally we are required to ensure customers are over 18, we have set the minimum age for membership at 21. We want members who are that little bit older, who have given it a lot of thought and are both confident and mature enough to be involved – not just the people who want to tick the box and get the t-shirt.

“We started with a clear vision and we’ve managed to keep the standard very high and maintain the vision. We now have a wider understanding of the market and our customers, which we see as being very important. I guess it’s really a very normal technique in an unusual marketplace.”

As the first venue of its type, Liberation’s forthcoming marketing activity could set a standard and an openness that has never been seen before. Whether or not the news that the firm is on the look out for a creative agency will result in an orderly queue of agency heads and new business directors wanting to sign up is yet to be seen. However, one thing we can rely on is the countless creatives whose attention will be aroused by the prospect of working on such a liberating brand.

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