usually a word that is whispered in India, accompanied by giggles and furtive nudges. But in this age of HIV/AIDS, several efforts are being made to bring the word out in the open.
Population Services International/India had Balbir Pasha talking directly to the country about HIV/AIDS and condom use in its prevention. Various brands advertise the 'sexiness' related to condoms. But the BBC World Service Trust is here with a different objective - to get condoms the social acceptance they deserve.
The BBC World Service Trust began its condom normalisation drive in December 2007. Now it is initiating the third phase of the drive, called Condom a Cappella. A television film sets the scene. The film opens on a wedding, where the protagonist (Vrajesh Hirjee) is preparing to click photographs on his mobile. An animated parrot - the mascot for the BBC World Service Trust's condom normalisation campaign - accompanies him.
Hirjee's aged uncle (his duplicate) comes to him and is fascinated by his nephew's new mobile. He takes it for a closer look. Suddenly, the phone rings aloud in his hand with the Condom a Cappella ringtone, specially created for the drive. The uncle is embarrassed, with everyone staring at him. But gradually, his embarrassment recedes as he realises that the people around him all seem to appreciate the fact that he finds it smart to stand up for condom use. People are heard saying in unison, "Condom matlab samajhdaari. Aur jo samjha, wohi sikander (Condom means being sensible. And the sensible one is the winner)." The film closes with a mention of the short code from which the ringtone can be downloaded.
In an exclusive chat with afaqs!, Radharani Mitra, creative director, BBC World Service Trust, reveals, "This is the third phase of the campaign, and it has been a developing process. Every bit of the first and second phases has contributed to the research that was required to put the third phase in place."
The focus of the campaign is to get men to talk about condoms because this has a positive effect on condom use and it positions condoms as a product that men use to show they are responsible and care about themselves and their families. The campaign has four phases spread over a year.
"The creative thought has been of that of getting condoms to be accepted socially and getting people to talk about them. Like one can see, the entire campaign has been staged at a wedding - an intensely social situation. Targeted at adults, the campaign depicts a person who is shy to talk about condoms in public, but gets support from both men and women, across age groups," says Mitra.
"Condoms have been associated with negative notions such as immorality. This is an attempt to move it out of the negative box to the positive box. It is to make people see condom use in a better light. We are not saying that HIV/AIDS will see a reduction through this campaign. All I can say is that this campaign, which is targeted at changing people's attitudes, will lead to behaviour change and, in turn, affect the lives of people," says Mitra.
In its first five days, the Condom a Cappella ringtone got more than 20,000 downloads; till August 16, there were 60,000 requests for downloads. The ringtone has been composed by Rajat (Juku) Dholakia and Rupert and sung by Vijay Prakash.
The campaign's mascot, the animated parrot, is smart and pesky and has an opinion about everything and a great sense of humour. The parrot was selected because of its association with the act of talking.
The first and second phases have been hugely successful, reveals Mitra. The first phase was a contest, which was launched through a campaign. Titled Jo Bola Wohi Sikander, the contest ran for three weeks in December 2007 in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. The contest was advertised on television and radio and in cinema halls as well as outdoor media and various on-ground activities in shopping malls, on beaches, at transportation depots and in rural areas.
Key findings were that the campaign reached 52 million men in the four states in just three weeks. Nearly 70 per cent of those who saw the ad discussed it with their friends. Remember, the objective was to get men talking about condoms. The TV ad had robust clutter cutting ability, with 11 per cent of those interviewed spontaneously recalling the ad on being given the cue of ads related to sexual health and condoms. The scores were particularly high in Karnataka (29 per cent) and Tamil Nadu (15 per cent). Recall of the ad increased to 67 per cent when interviewees were shown photos of the ad.
The second phase of the campaign was launched in March this year. It depicted Vrajesh Hirjee , the protagonist, winning a 'kabaddi' match chanting "condom", instead of the usual "kabaddi".
The second phase of the campaign aimed to get men to talk about condoms because this has a positive effect on condom use and to show social support for this demonstration of smart and responsible behaviour. There was also an interactive element with an SMS opinion poll in the print medium around the core message. The impact monitoring of the 'kabaddi' phase showed that 80 per cent of the people who saw the film said they discussed it with their peers. They also expressed their intent to continue talking about condoms in the future. The campaign reached 57 million men in the four states.
Hirjee and the animated parrot have been the faces of the campaign since it was launched. Produced by the BBC World Service Trust, the campaign is funded by Avahan, the Indian HIV/AIDS initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Condom a Cappella TV film was directed by Arjun Gourisaria of Black Magic Films, Mumbai. The campaign, which started on August 8, will be aired for six weeks. Madison is the media agency.