How to market and sell condoms or anything taboo We all have shied away from watching those condom commercials on the television. Most of us skip those ads. And if we are skipping them, who is really watching them? Is there something more that the best condom brands need to do in their marketing. In this article I explain to you how you can market any taboo product.

There is a certain prelude to this topic of sheaths that I chose to tell you about today. The prelude is about how the best condom brands came into the picture in India.

Here it goes:

During under graduation, I got a chance to do one of my internships in Chennai at a power transmission and distribution company.

This multinational company has a big manufacturing setup there at a place called Pallavaram in Chennai. This factory has been there almost since the time of independence.

Anyone from Chennai who is reading this right now would exactly know which company I am talking about.

A few of them might even know that there is another factory that has been there at Pallavaram from around the same time in the history.

As it turns out, the first condom manufacturing unit in India was in Pallavaram in Chennai.

It was setup in 1963 as a joint venture between the London Rubber Company Ltd (which had the brand Durex) and an Indian brand led by Mr. T.T. Narasimhan.

This JV manufactured and marketed the Kohinoor brand of condoms in India for a long time until the brand was acquired by Reckitt Benckiser.

Prelude ends.


Taboo v/s Marketer

In case of a taboo, you as a marketer would find yourself in a tough spot. More often than not the very need (let alone a want) of that product is not acknowledged.

In most cases, no one is going to raise their hand and ask for the taboo product that you are selling.

Rather, one would be in denial and would suppress the need for it.

The best condom brands trying to sell you condoms in India are a good example of brands stuck in this conundrum.

While safe sex does not seem to be a safe topic for discussion at homes and in classrooms, marketers surely had to find a way to get people to acknowledge its importance.

For marketers, marketing anything that is taboo is, therefore, a multi-layered challenge. It is complex.

Alongside marketing your product, you need to take down the denial that goes around with it. You need to make people believe that they need it.

In fact, you need to make people talk about it so that people are not suppressing it anymore.

In this article, I will share with you what I think are the best ways in which condoms or anything taboo can be marketed successfully.

These are the learning from the best condom brands and other social campaigns that I have summed up here for you.

Here is how you as a marketer can sell condoms or anything taboo.


1. Legitimize the taboo

This is the golden rule for selling anything that is taboo – just legitimize the product.

Imagine this for an instance:

Rahul Dravid comes on the radio to urge you to use a condom. Chances are that a lot of the Indian youth, most of whom would be cricket fans, would take this seriously.

It isn’t something in the message that clicks if you ask me. The power in the punch is in who delivers the message.

There is a certain respect that Rahul Dravid holds in your eye. Rahul Dravid has a certain positioning in the frame of reference which includes all the other cricketers.

Rahul Dravid does no wrong. He is always right. Rahul Dravid is the most dependable person out there. Rahul Dravid is the perfect mentor.

And when a person like this tells you to wear a condom – it does two things at the same time.

One, it bloody well makes sure that the product he is talking about sells.

And two, it achieves a greater purpose of suddenly making that ritual or that concept no longer a taboo.

Suddenly, condom and sex is not a water-cooler joke but a real and serious thing.

Because Rahul Dravid said it.

Now, not just the best condom brands in the world but certain other social campaigns have also made use of this.

I will explain this with an example that I quoted in one of my previous articles on What is Positioning.

In the 90’s, Viagra came out with their product to help older men to enjoy intimacy. The positioning of the product was also such that it targeted men of that age group.

This was a first in its product category and the company had to make the people belief that this would give them ‘their manhood back’.

The marketers brought on board Bob Dole, a 70-year-old war-veteran who also once ran for the presidency of the US.


Over and above all the things that Bob Dole was, he was a good embodiment of what someone would call ‘a real man’, a war hero. Machismo and maturity.

Now Bob Dole was a serious personality. And when a personality like that tells you to do something that is considered a taboo, it no longer remains a taboo.

Therefore, if you are dealing with a taboo product – get someone serious, respectful to talk about it. Legitimize the act or the ritual through that and the product will receive a greater acceptance.


2. Make fun of it

We all have seen numerous condom ads featuring the most inviting women personalities telling you, in the most sensual way, about what does it feel like when her man uses that condom with her.




Such ads have been a regular at least on Indian television.

As per the government directive, these ads are not shown between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. But even the adults, for whom these ads are intended, do tend to skip these ads.

And frankly, they are all the same these ads.

Even the best condom brands have done it to death. There isn’t anything new that each new ad is telling you about.

So a lesser known female model is basically telling you the same thing as what a Sunny Leone is telling in her recent condom ads.


Courtesy: Manforce Condoms


It’s all sexual, sensual and (some might say) arousing. A perfect recipe for Indian youth and families to avoid that ad completely.

But then in comes Durex.

Durex went the funny way. They got on board Ranveer Singh and came up with an advertisement campaign titled ‘Do the Rex’.

Not only did they make a really funny and peppy song (sung by Ranveer himself). They backed it up with a great social media campaign that ensured the song became viral in no time.

This campaign was truly the most impactful and talked about condom advertisement in a long time in India. It celebrated sex, made fun of it and made sure that the ad is truly unskippable.

Therefore, if you are marketing a taboo product – see if you can diffuse the tension around the taboo with humour. It worked for Durex and is likely to work for you.


3. Throw some hard-hitting, undeniable logic

This is probably one of the most obvious and direct ways of coming across to your audience. In fact most of the social campaigns find this to be the most appropriate way to evoke a sense of awakening.

I recently came across this social advertisement to promote the use of sanitary pads. You are most likely to see this ad only in the movie theaters.

In this ad targeted at the male of the house, Akshay Kumar is propagating the benefits of using sanitary pads to a man whose wife has caught infection obviously because of not using sanitary pads.


Akshay Kumar does this by giving some good mathematical logic to the man who spends a good portion of his income on smoking beedi and cigarettes.

The idea is to make him (and through him every other man) realize the importance of sanitary pads and how he could save the life of his wife by buying sanitary pads from the money he wastes on his vain habits.

Now, here’s the thing with these kinds of ads.

You need to be really direct with the logic or analogy that you are presenting to your audience.

A more educated audience will obviously understand complex logic better. But then advertisements are not supposed to make you do mathematics or understand analogies.

Therefore, as a marketer, you should use such logic driven advertisements only and only if the logic is straightforward and easy to understand.

A good barometer is that if the ad is understood even by the people of the minimum education level of your target segment – the logic will be understood by most.


Pulse Polio Campaign in India

The discussion calls for this another really apt example of a successful social marketing campaign.

The Pulse Polio campaign in India is a success. India defeated polio as the number of polio cases went down from as high as 38,090 in 1980 to a mere 43 cases in 2010.




And since 2010, the campaign has really shown overwhelming results by completely eradicating polio from India, as on date.

Polio is a disease that takes birth out of negligence.

To keep this disease at bay for life, all one needs to do is to administer two polio drops to the children on their birth.

But this needs awareness. And acceptance.

Back in the day, the early 2000s, it was extremely difficult to convince the orthodox heads of family in the rural regions that these drops were life-saving.

People avoided polio drops not because it costed money (rather they were administered for free) but because of a preposterous denial.

How can my kid get this disease? How can it happen to us?

A taboo that the polio drops were was countered by a well crafted and executed marketing campaign.

In the almost decade-long social campaign, Amitabh Bachchan explained the importance of polio drops with, both, emotion and logic.

More importantly, Amitabh Bachchan is a serious personality. The angry young man back then.

Having Amitabh Bachchan talk about polio drops legitimized the entire exercise.

The target audience was the elder people of the household who controlled what happened in the house.

And this campaign certainly did do wonders for the cause because Amitabh Bachchan was the hero of their time.


Summing Up

The idea should be clear. Dealing with something that is taboo is complex. It is multi-layered and multi-faceted.

As a marketer, not only are you required to market and sell the product. You are also required to sell the idea of using that product. And the best condom brands woke up to this realization just in time.

Embrace the taboo, make it go away gracefully. Make fun of it when you see the opportunity and deliver logic whenever you deem it to be the right time.

I would love to hear your ideas of how would you market a taboo product.


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About the Author:

Darpan is a Marketing Strategist & Consultant by profession and a blogger by hobby. He is an engineer by qualification and also an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Udaipur. In his 6+ years of professional experience, he has crafted go-to-market strategies for brands like Abbott (in Singapore), Genpact and CL Educate apart from the other small and medium businesses which have witnessed growth through his marketing and strategy consultation. Darpan has worked as a Product Head of the biggest vertical of an education technology company in New Delhi.
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