THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT

Condom marketing has come a long way since the days of discreet ads and ‘something for the weekend’ jokes. But one thing has remained – the maxim that size doesn’t matter. That is until now, with Mates breaking the last taboo to promote its br

Mates Healthcare is promoting small, medium and large condom sizes with the first advertising campaign to state that size does matter (MW October 9).

Size is an issue traditionally avoided by condom advertisers. A taboo in a world which was, for so many years, taboo itself. Now that men are being made aware of the fact that “close fitting” equals small and “natural” equals large, the old male pride is likely to send sales of Close Fitting plummeting. The traditional “one size fits all” approach was far more reassuring.

Rival condom manufacturers will no doubt be monitoring the success of the campaign with close interest. The approach illustrates just how innovative, confrontational and risqué condom marketing has become over the years.

Condoms are big business. IRI Infoscan says the condom market had a retail value of 38m (excluding vending) in the year to March 1997, with 160 million condoms sold each year in the UK. Research last year by international market analyst Euromonitor showed that male condoms account for over 97 per cent of the total worldwide over the counter contraceptive market.

The London Rubber Company’s Durex brand is the market leader, with a volume market share of over 80 per cent. The company has several brands targeted at differ ent markets, such as Safe Play for youngsters and Select for those who see the funny (or even fruity or minty) side of sex. Avanti – the thinner yet stronger condom made with polyurethane – is now being marketed as the “revolutionary” condom.

In contrast, Mates markets different sizes and strengths rather than differentiating with separate names. Durex claims it designs its brands around research into sexual attitudes and behaviour. The company’s head of marketing Leigh Taylor says: “We identify the various needs within the market and then [develop] the brands to meet those different needs.”

This wasn’t the case, however, with Assure, the brand with which Durex attempted to create a niche in the market, as it turned out, that did not exist. Packaged in an un-branded pastel box, the brand was aimed at women who wanted a box discreet enough to carry around in their handbag. The brand was withdrawn as women were confident enough to buy the brand best for them, regardless of packaging.

Packaging is nonetheless crucial in targeting a particular market, as Durex knows. The Select range is packaged in contemporary bright boxes, while Featherlite and Elite are decorated with romantic pictures to attract couples with a more conservative outlook on contraception.

Jiffi condoms, manufactured by Sime Darby, are targeted at the 16- to 24-year-old market. The whole idea behind the brand was to move away from the clinical image of contraception and market condoms as necessities which can be colourful, fun and even fashionable. Earlier marketing strategies included branded T-shirts and boxer shorts with the slogans “Real men come in a Jiffi” and “Where all the big knobs hang out”.

Miles Marshall, account director on Jiffi at agency GJR Advertising, is keen to point out, however, that the brand – one of the first to venture into flavours and colours – is not just about “novelty condoms”, an image with which it is usually associated. “We are trying to move into the mainstream…and target a much wider consumer market than just ‘blokes’. For instance, we have packs of 12 in Tesco to target the housewives who use them on a regular basis.”

Although the bold packaging appeals to younger consumers, Jiffi’s most recent ad campaign purposely avoided targeting any particular group. The “crash test dummy” ad not only highlighted the safety of the brand but used a faceless, ageless dummy to prevent consumers from identifying Jiffi with any one type of person.

Marshall doubts that Mates’ new approach will increase its market share as men are unlikely to switch brands for the choice of size. “Men who have always bought the Mates brand will just stop buying small and buy medium or large instead,” he says.

Taylor is similarly unimpressed with the new strategy. He says that although it is “an interesting one”, the size approach is not one that Durex would consider taking.

But Mates director Chris Bell stresses: “Our pilot study indicated that men can tell the difference between varied shapes and sizes, and get better satisfaction from using the right one for them. Many people have identified that Close Fitting gives them greater sensitivity.

“The Government has done an extremely good job of advising consumers about the need for safe sex. The other issue which we want to promote is that sex must be worry-free and also enjoyable.”

On the whole, condom advertising has become increasingly humorous in an attempt to get the serious message of safe sex across to those who probably wouldn’t look twice at ads featuring soft-focus clinches and educational text.

The innuendo behind Mates’ new campaign could not get any closer to the bone if it tried. Pictures of cocks (the feathered variety), helmets, winkles and knobs in different sizes hardly leave much to the imagination even if they do conjure up images of “Carry on” films.

The bravado of the advertisers is in tune with public attitudes. Ten years ago consumer concern about HIV and Aids encouraged the relevant committees to relax their codes of practice concerning condom advertising. TV ads were allowed for the first time in 1987, as long as they did not feature shots of the unwrapping of a pack or promote promiscuity; were broadcast after the 9pm watershed; and provided that the products complied with the British Safety Standard BS 3704.

Lust 4 Life, the safe sex awareness group, took the most outrageous approach of the lot through FCA! last December. Spoof “service” cards were posted in London telephone boxes offering the services of fictional prostitutes Naughty Nurse Moorcock and Johnny. Callers were treated to a rubber fantasy which ended with the message: “If you wanna have some fun, wear rubber when you come.”

Awareness campaigns also play a large part in condom marketing, particularly around National Condom Week, the annual awareness event once organised by the British Safety Council and now taken over by Durex.

Events take place at roadshows, nightclubs, festivals, markets, pubs and youth centres.

The HEA’s sexual health spokesman John Cope agrees that marketing approaches need to evolve with social attitudes. “You can’t put out the same messages for years. When the HIV epidemic was predicted in 1987, the scare tactics used were appropriate,” he says.

The HEA has changed its strategy several times over the past ten years. In 1989/90, medical resear-chers and officers talked about the threat of Aids in dark, serious TV ads; in 1992 we were introduced to “Geronimo”, the reusable condom that old Mr Brewster “put up with” in his youth; and in 1996 young women were warned about the dangers of wild nights of passion without a condom.

But the Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading Aids charity, wants condom manufacturers to become even “braver” with their marketing strategies.

“Advertising should be clearer about which condoms are for which sexual acts,” says the Trust’s spokeswoman Gayle Lyes. It would particularly like to see anal sex recognised in ad campaigns in order to educate people about the need to use a condom specially designed for such an act.

“It’s about a balance [of both serious and humorous approaches] and being realistic about what condoms are really used for,” says Lyes. She adds that the Mates campaign misses the point as “size should not be the issue”.

Most condom ranges do feature an extra-strong variant for anal sex and Taylor says that marketing which addresses this issue is being explored by Durex at the moment. Other manufacturers, however, prefer to stick to the clinical and educational approach.

Boots The Chemist launched its own brand of condoms last April. The packaging of Extra and Ultra Fine – a black box featuring the soft-focus shot of an arm around a shoulder – is tailored to Boots’ target market, 25- to 44-year-old women.

Marketing of the condoms follows Boots’ traditional route of providing a wealth of information at point-of-sale. Spokesman for the company Tim Legg says: “We make sure that information is provided at the display and trained healthcare assistants are on hand to enable the customer to make an informed choice.”

Which brings us back to Mates’ idea of an “informed choice”. In this case, what is on offer is information which many men would prefer not to know.

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