Condom ads get bolder but still shy away from direct communication: Experts
The commercial condom market has not only grown in size, but has also witnessed sea change in its communication which has become bolder with time
Over the past few years, the Rs 777 crore, commercial condom market has not only grown in size, but has also witnessed sea change in its communication. What was initially positioned in this landscape as a ‘medium of necessity’, today it is seen more as a ‘medium of pleasure’. From turning bolder, to subtle connotation depicting love-making to using rap songs, top brands in this space like Manforce (with a market share of 32.4%), Moods (12.7%) , SKORE( 10.3%) and others are trying hard to shed the taboo attached to the word ‘sex’ in our society.
Last month, SKORE released their new ad which showcased a female passenger being frisked by a female security officer at the airport in a very sensuous way. The ad which is currently running on TV has managed to raise eyebrows because of its bold content. Durex, on the other hand takes a very different route all together; from bringing in the first male celebrity to be the face of their brand to talking directly to the youth and conveying the message of ‘safe sex’. Unlike some ads in this category, which objectify women, brands today are trying to find newer ways to communicate with the young consumers.
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We asked advertising experts how the communication in the condom category has evolved over the years. Here is what they had to say:
Has the category progressed in its communication?
Sharing his thoughts on how communication in this category has evolved, KV Sridhar, Chief Creative Officer, Sapient Nitro highlighted, “During the late 70s and early 80s, India’s first condom brand ‘Nirodh’ was launched by the government of India. These condoms were forced upon people as a ‘family planning’ and ‘STD prevention’ aid. In between few brands like ‘Champ’ came into the market, but they failed to make a mark. However, it was only during the 90s that Kamasutra came out with their bold advertising and the entire focus of communication in this category shifted from family planning to talking about sex. There was huge criticism that how can a brand blatantly talk about sex. Also around the same time, HIV became big in our country and iconic ads like ‘Balbir Pasha ko AIDS hoga kya?’ were made. Till then messaging in this category was all about, condom as a birth control method, as an aid to space out between the first and the second child and to get protection from HIV.”
Balbir Pasha Ko aids hoga kya:
Kamasutra (Pooja Bedi):
According to him, today the scenario has changed, things are much more open, casual and pre-marital sex is common. With internet, brands like SKORE and Durex can reach out to their correct target audience. “However, the main problem still remains; child pregnancy, which is very rampant in rural areas because of the early age of marriage in girls, and the increase in unwanted pregnancies in urban areas. Brands are trying to overtly advertise sexuality which has become generic to this category and with too much of sexual overtones; the real purpose is actually getting lost.”
Echoing similar thoughts, Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Executive Creative Director, South Asia, O&M said, “Kamasutra started advertising condoms in a very ‘sexy’ way and that is how the trend of brands taking this route started. Most ads in this category highlight more on the sex appeal, sexiness and pleasure of sexual attraction. We all know that the real purpose of a condom is for protection, prevention of pregnancy and other sexually transmitted diseases. However, brands prefer to stay away from talking about it in their communication, probably because it looks ‘less appealing’.”
Rahul Mathew, Creative Head, DDB Mudra West commented, “Condom advertising as far as I remember used to be more about safe sex and protection. Now it’s all about pleasure. The conversation that a brand like SKORE is having is quite progressive. A woman proclaiming that she’s a participant and not just an object of seduction is definitely a bold step in a country where even her pleasure is a measure of masculinity. But the execution turns the progressive conversation rather regressive. I do believe that a woman talking about enjoying sex (which does not include biting her lip) could have been just as provocative. At the same time I do also like the approach that Durex has taken with Ranveer. While they may not be as comfortable talking about sex, the youth are definitely very comfortable with the act of sex. It’s seen as a natural progression to attraction. And Durex has treated it with the same amount of fun and lightness.”
Naresh Gupta, Managing Partner, CSO, Bang in the Middle elaborated, “It was is mid 90s that Kamasutra was launched in India and we had Marc Robinson and Pooja Bedi (later Anu Aggarwal) featuring in a hot steamy ad for condom that moved the needle from birth control to love making. That was when the appeal saw evolution. Since then the market has remained stuck in the same groove. Manforce has made the category sleazier, SKORE can’t decide which side of fence it wants to sit, and Durex once in a while produces some nice stuff. Like ‘Do The Rex’ was great line, but the Gangnum Style dance was a bit over the top. Since 90s, when KS (this is what it is called now) broke the mood, we haven’t seen another brand push the boundary; the whole category by and large has been squeamish. It’s Durex that has been brave, but Durex too doesn’t push its global plank in India (Love, Sex, Durex).”
Suresh Eriyat, founder and creative director at Eeksaurus said, “Earlier brands used humour to show the shamefulness of the person in buying a condom from a medical store, today the ads have taken a new premise. It is all about how to shock people and by making the woman a bold partner.”
How difficult is it to innovate keeping the regressive mindset of the society?
Manforce condom ad endorsed by Sunny Leone was in the midst of controversy last year, after one of the politicians demanded a ban on the ad, on the ground that it was not ‘preventing AIDS, but was promoting rape’. Around the same time, there also came the news that Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was mulling over the idea to restrict the condom ad timings during the day and keep it for the adult viewing slot (11pm to 5am). The reason being, they have been flooded with complaints from various moral policing groups on the ground that these ads are spoiling kids’ and have ‘given rise to free sex’ in the country.
In a society, where there are numerous restrictions, how difficult is it for brands and advertisers to work in this space?
Commenting on this, Eriyat says, “We live in a society which is filled with a bunch of hypocrites. We propagate something, but do exactly the opposite. Advertisers and brands will have to figure out other ways of talking to people and not do things under the garb of sexuality. There is no point in shying away from talking directly, because kids today are becoming very liberal. Avoid showing the obvious, like getting more pleasure etc, cut the obvious to de-clutter the category.”
Gupta from Bang in the Middle highlights, “There are many connections that the brands can make, in fact the pop culture is full of examples where they have had a conversation about rubber without the accompanying squeamishness in regular manner, but the ad narratives are not moving on. Today TV is happy to show programmes like Big Boss and SplitsVilla, where the Love/Sex quotient is so high that it leaves nothing to imagination, or movies where “we just had sex” moments are now just another act. Someone needs to move them on. More than ever, it’s now that young people celebrate being in love and being together like never before, the possibilities that condom brands can exploit is enormous. This is a category that will generate outrage, because the category codes are naughty, but that should not bother the brands if they do stuff that is clever, involving and engaging. If you deliberately titillate, then the category will come under scanner.”
Sharing similar thoughts, Mathew feels the topic of sex makes many in the country rather uncomfortable. And for politicians it’s a chance to take the moral high-ground. Some deodorants have been preaching adultery and polygamy; but just because here it’s a product that’s directly involved, restrictions are imposed. I find it rather ridiculous considering condoms still do play a big role in protection from sexually transmitted diseases and birth control. I feel condom companies should go a little easy with the sleaze and the moans. And the moral police should just go.”
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