Welcome to Will It Stick? podcast, where hosts Melissa and Alexis cover creative advertising campaigns, PR stunts, and marketing activations that brands of all shapes and sizes pull, and dive into the research and data to understand if it worked.
This week, Melissa takes Alexis on a journey of safe sex and condoms as she covers Durex.
Durex has been dishing out some really off-the-wall, creative stuff for a long time. In the past decade or so, Durex has inserted some more purpose to its edgy marketing. Many of its campaigns are in an effort to challenge sexual norms along to make intentional changes around those norms. This is especially hard in countries like China and India – to name a few, where Durex has pushed the limits so far and is constantly getting reprimanded in an effort to make safe sex and sexual pleasure more approachable, non-taboo topic.
Today, Durex is owned by Reckitt (legally incorporated as Reckitt Benckiser (ben-Keezer) Group plc), is a British multinational consumer goods company headquartered in England. But, Durex was founded way back in London in 1915 by a guy named L.A. Jackson and was originally called the London Rubber Company or the LRC.
In 1929, Jackson officially registered Durex as the brand. At that point, the company had only been importing disposable condoms for resale in Great Britain, but in 1932 it made its first condom in-house and labeled it under the Durex brand. Do you know what the name Durex stands for? Durability, Reliability, and Excellence. Really, it’s a fantastic name. In the mid-1940s, the company was the largest producer of condoms in Britain and by the 1960s, it was the largest producer in the world. In the 1950s Durex was the first-ever brand to release the lubricated condom.
Then, in 1953 it figured out how to electronically test condoms. Do you think prior to that, they just eyeballed it? In the 60s, they actually were the first brand to make the condom anatomically shaped.
In the 90s, they really spiced things up by making condoms in multiple colors and flavors. In 1996, they were the first condom company to launch a website and at that point, they were marketing internationally and the international market just took off when it went online.
In 2001, Durex was the first brand to make a condom with both a ribbed and dotted texture, it was called Pleasuremax. Two years later in 03, it added its line of Play lubricants. Then in 2009, they really went for it and introduced some toys to the mix. Things like – the vibrating pleasure ring?
There are around 975 Durex condoms are sold every minute. Durex is the second best-selling condom in the U.S.(just behind Trojan) BUT it holds the spot as the WORLD’s most popular condom brand, sold in 152 countries.
In 2003, the Durex brand was set to launch its first billboard campaign in the UK to promote its Durex Performa. This was the first-ever condom billboard in the UK ever, actually. The product claims to contain a small about of benzocaine cream which reduces sensation and thus delays you know, the end result so sex lasts longer. The tagline was “Made to make you last longer” and the goal was to build brand awareness around the fact that safe sex can also be good sex, and Durex Performa was the prime option. So, it invested about a million bucks and ran billboards in 12 cities. Some billboards read “Roger More” like this one, others read “Ejaculator” or “Longer Screw”. They, of course, got flagged when they received a LOT of complaints, and the Advertising Standards Authority made them take them down. Still – as always, this resulted in a ton of earned media attention. Social didn’t exist yet, but this would have been all over social media if it did.
In 2014, Durex decided to get involved with the environment, kind of. It encouraged people to celebrate Earth Hour with the #TurnOfftoTurnOn campaign. This was a worldwide initiative on March 29 to encourage people to reconnect while lights were out to celebrate Earth Hour. As part of its call to action for this campaign, Durex created a short video following the stories of different couples who, like all of us today, have become quite distracted by the lure of the screen – phones, ipads, TVs, computers – all the screens. It’s a really beautiful video actually – showing couples just being together but missing great moments because of their screens, and then one of the couples is sitting on the couch, the girl on her computer the guy watching a movie. Their hands meet in the popcorn bowl and they look up and turn off the TV and shut the computer. Then you see each couple turn off their devices and embrace and kiss. Then it ends with cities around the world – from Sydney, Australia to NYC shutting off all their lights. And it ends with the campaign hashtag.
The video was meant to drive social interaction and it ran in 56 markets with a seven-figure media budget to support it. At the same time that they released this video, they also released the results of a survey they had conducted in the UK that illustrated that 1/3 of Brits believe technology gets in the way of our sex lives, and almost half of those people also felt that technology has had a negative effect on their relationship. I love this one – it’s so cheeky and it has such an important message, we all do it – we all choose our phones over our partners way too often and this was a fun way to remind the world to choose human interaction over your phone for Earth Hour, and maybe this would change people’s actions beyond just Earth Hour, too. They did an excellent job shifting from functional positioning of its condom, to emotional positioning.
And it was effective – the videos were viewed more than 85 million times across 56 countries, and it generated positive sentiment 97.8% of the time. PLUS, it generated more than 470 million impressions from earned media. Not bad.
In 2015, Durex decided to lobby very hard for a brand new emoji, in an effort to get the attention of the Unicode Consortium’s Emoji Subcommittee… it’s the not-for-profit body that encodes characters for digital communication. In anticipation of World Aids Day on Dec. 1 and based on some important stats at the time that showed that 80% of 18 – 25-year-olds use emojis for basic conversation. Today, the stats show that 92% of the online population uses emojis daily. Over 10 billion emojis are sent each day. So Durex decided that now was the time to get an official condom emoji, and it asked people around the world to show support by using the hashtag #condomemoji in as many social media conversations as possible. The goal was to get 1 million people to show support. The reason for the condom emoji wasn’t just to be cheeky and cute, it was meant to help younger people to overcome the embarrassment around the discussion of safe sex, and what better way to do that than through an emoji. The brand shared information that 1/3 of younger people don’t see STIs, even serious ones, as a risk worth worrying about.
Durex created a video for this call to action and it illustrates all the emoji combos people use to communicate sex, you know…like a peach and an eggplant (some may call it an aubergine) combo, or maybe the pointer finger and the A-OK hand signal.
So they followed all the protocol, and they submitted a little blue condom image to the Emoji people. And what happened?
DENIED. The condom wasn’t among the 77 new emojis unveiled in 2016, but you know what emojis did make the cute? an avocado, a drum, and a person playing water polo.
The reasoning, supposedly, that the emoji was not approved was because it excludes images of products strongly associated with a particular brand. But, the condom wasn’t branded Durex at all. And, the point – per Durex, was to encourage safe sex by using any condoms…but of course, Durex’s name was all of the internet behind the call for the condom emoji. And what happens when a brand gets a rejection like this, lex? The brand was anticipating the rejection and they were ready for it. Upon getting the denial, Durex unleashed a series of emoji jokes and they won the Internet. They took the image of a real aubergine on spoof packaging for flavored condoms and shared it on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The stunt triggered 3.13 billion impressions. Five hours later, they revealed that the launch of the product was a hoax. I mean if the Emoji People thought Eggplants were the best way to communicate about Sex, they were going to help them along.
Then, to mark World AIDS Day 2016, the Durex team announced the results of a survey to find the ‘unofficial safe sex emoji’: an umbrella with raindrops. Internet dictionary Emojipedia then added ‘unofficial safe sex emoji’ as a definition for the symbol, which helped to trigger a further 789,000 interactions with Durex social media posts. In total, the campaign generated more than 7 billion impressions across print and online media. The brand really did a great job tapping into a very powerful social trend – emojis play a huge role in our modern communication platforms.
In this episode, we also cover:
- China Live Stream: 2016 event where Durex livestreamed a 3-hour long advertisement featuring 50 couples in bed.
- India Safe Sex Push: Durex Jeans campaign with popular Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh
- Pandemic Sex decline and the “New Normal” video to normalize safe sex
- Anal Sex campaign to challenge and change sexual norms, and hiring a French sex expert Maia Mazaurette to create a new chapter for the Kama Sutra focused on anal sex
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Check out some of the great articles we sourced to gather all the facts for this episode.
Read the book Protective Practices: A History of the London Rubber Company and the Condom Business by Jessica Borge.
Read the article contribute by Jessica Borge on TheConversation.com titled “Durex Condoms: How Their Teenage Immigrant Inventor Was Forgotten by History.
Read the AdWeek article titled “Durex Challenges the Stigmas Around Anal Sex, Which It’s Not Allowed to Mention in Ads by Sara Spary
Read the NewsBytes article by Sneha Benjani titled “Marketing Lessons We Can All Take from Condom-Maker, Durex“