Nirodh to Durex Jeans: The condom ad in India has travelled a long and interesting road

9 min read

“The new Durex ad is cute. It brings the attention back to the category but I think people are still going to continue carrying the condom in their wallets. We’re not carrying them to work yet, are we?” quips ad guru Alyque Padamsee. If the advertiser is to be believed, the millennial’s fundamental problem is no longer HIV, family planning or making the condom sexy. It’s apparently carrying it around in our jeans and purchasing it with the same ease as candy. Yes, some people would do that in the age of Amazon, Grofers and because it’s simpler or maybe they live where e-commerce players don’t deliver.

The very functional Nirodh packaging

“We did get Nirodh (the first condom brand) in 1963 before Nasbandi (1976). Thank God for that! And our ads have changed with the marketer’s purpose, not with the times — because frankly all of India isn’t really in the same time zone. When population control became a big concern in 1960s, team IIM, DAVP and USAID came together to launch a condom brand that people could identify with. They wanted to call it Kamraj but alas, the then Congress president had the same name — K Kamraj. So they went with Nirodh. Free distribution works like a charm even if the pack is white and plain with red text on it. Until a few months ago, (when the Nirodh packaging underwent a change) the pack still said ’10 lubricated condoms. Each condom to be used once only. Manufactured by HLL Lifecare Limited’,” Padamsee says.

We’d be silly to scoff at it though. “DAVP and Nirodh did a good job. They did important work. HIV was a huge problem. While it still is a concern, it has been greatly reduced. And those ads worked,” says Padamsee, who introduced perhaps the first sexy condom ads with the KamaSutra brand. Ask him about it and he says, “The problem I solved with KamaSutra was different. Condoms weren’t sexy. And thanks to Pooja Bedi and our classy ad, it became a national brand. All the supply was near Maharashtra but all the demand was coming from Punjab.” Sure, Alyque Padamsee had to bear the brunt of some media houses refusing to run the ad and the ASCI threatening to ban it… but for the client, it worked. Also, good looking boys began being called “KS guys” in college.

Here’s a timeline for the condom ad:
1966- HLL’s brand Nirodh is born. 400 million condoms are imported by the government of India from US, Japan and Korea.
1968- 75 percent of that stock remains unused. People say no even to the free stuff.
1987- HLL launches premium condom ‘Moods’. Campaign: Moods Please.
1974- TTK launches the first non-subsidised condom.
1991 – JK Ansell launches KamaSutra with Pooja Bedi and Marc Robinson.
2006- HLL- Moods. Campaign: My Man.
2010- Mankind Pharma launches Manforce condoms; first to promote flavoured condoms.
2011- HLL-Moods. Campaign: Your Time, Your Place.
2012- TTK PDL launches Skore.
2014- Mankind Pharma’s Manforce condoms ropes in Sunny Leone.
2015- HLL Moods Campaign: Play it Right.
2016- Durex launches eggplant flavoured condoms!
2017 – HLL’s Nirodh gets a packaging revamp.
2017- Durex releases India version of “Durex Jeans”. While the sachet may be novel, the concept and commercial were seen in South Korea more than three years ago.

Before Moods came along, there was just free and subsidised varieties of condoms. The ‘Moods’ men (not too many women) were willing to spend a little extra on condoms because they could relate to the confident chap who wasn’t afraid to ask the chemist for a condom. He just says, “Moods please” and everybody is in awe of him. The fact that he is good looking helps.

Till KamaSutra’s 1991 commercial, condom ads were basically about the awkwardness of purchasing the product. You won’t remember, so maybe you can Google the scene from Tere Bina Kya Jeena (1989) where Shekhar Suman tries very hard to say “Kya aapke paas Nirodh hai?” to the chemist. Eventually an older but more confident man comes along to ask for a pack of Nirodh condoms and Suman says “Mujhe bhi”. It could have very well been the ad for Nirodh, it would have given the middle-aged man something to gloat about. The Moods ads is the same situation, with a role reversal. The young man is confident. The ad did wonders for the brand. So did their “My man” campaign which was a little more feminist in its approach. Women enjoy sex too and are a part of the company’s target group.

After Mankind Pharma picked Sunny Leone to be their brand ambassador, the subtlety of the ’90s went out the door. Some people mistook the condom for an aphrodisiac. I did wonder why no one seemed to have a problem with the name “Manforce” though, for the condoms. Sex sells, and so do their condoms. But with the new Durex ad I think we’ve come a full circle. Condoms are functional again. The only difference is, in the 1960s only a few were using them and in 2017 — only a few aren’t.

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