Previously targeted largely at married couples presumably in their early to late 30s, condom brands have, of late, seem to have found an addressable TG in today's young singletons. This is evident from both, the imagery shown in recent ads as well as other marketing initiatives undertaken by players in the category.
Hardwear, an eight month old condom brand by Kamasutra, in association with youth brand MTV, recently initiated a campaign at the heart of the youth's current hub - online; it included both quiz contests on the brand's website, as well as an aggressive digital campaign on social media. And the ad film, aimed at promoting the product's 'big head' proposition, features a bunch of young guys using big tools like giant hammers, saws and road construction drills.
The youth, as brand experts point out, is a big demographic pie that condom brands have slowly started addressing through their marketing efforts. This newfound TG, most deduce, has a lot to do with the shift in attitudes towards pre-marital sex, which may well be of the casual kind.
Speaking of changes, here's one present day sword hanging over the condom category. According to a report published in The Economic Times on February 4, 2014, the drug pricing authorities have issued an order mandating condom manufacturers to charge no more than Rs 6.50 per piece. This poses a problem for players that have a lot riding on their premium range, priced at upto Rs 20 per piece.
While refraining from picking between his married versus unmarried TG, Vishal Vyas, marketing head, TTK, says, "We are definitely saying 'youth', or 'young at heart'." The company, that has been in the business since 1950, realised while bringing Skore into the market, that marketing to the youth was a need it needed to fill. "India is a young country now," he says, "It's a cliché, but a fact."
For Saugato Bhowmick, consumer durables head, MTV, accepting the fact that youngsters today are much more sexually active than ever before is the first step to branding. And since Hardwear comes from the MTV banner, it ought to connect with the youth, he believes.
Kiran Khalap, co-founder, Chlorophyll, a brand consultancy, explains why targeting unmarried youngsters might be the best bet for condom brands today. For starters, they are the majority in India now - 65 per cent of the population is below 35 years of age.
"And this majority," he says, "is embracing change in its attitude to sex, especially in urban areas. To me, this is a subset of the inexorable change in modernity, where individuals no longer feel pressured to live up to tradition; it's a breakdown of hierarchy. Youngsters are therefore no longer clones of their parents. Availability of online pornography also facilitates experimentation. While pre-marital sex figures in surveys are low, my guess is most of them are lying."
Until a few years back, condom ads mostly showed married men, and not necessarily childless ones. Rewind a bit further, and you'll unearth condom ads that were invariably of the public service kind; recall Nirodh's entertaining yet educative seven minute musical?
Private ownership and advertising in the condom category started in the 1990s, when the government's birth control and AIDS awareness efforts were beginning to gain momentum. Around the same time, Kamasutra emerged as one of the first brands to start advertising and boldly stood for 'the pleasure of making love'. It revolutionised the category and converted the condom into an FMCG product, as a brand expert points out.
'New age' condom ads - that is, those released over the past few years - told a different story. The relationship between the couples featured in the ads became less and less definitive, and women began appearing a lot more in these ads. Many ads began featuring just women. Of late, though, both guys and girls are equally present in condom ads, but both have one thing in common - youth.
According to industry estimates, over 200 crore condoms are used in India every year. About 35 per cent of these are subsidised (primarily in states like UP and Haryana) and the rest fall under the commercial segment, which can be sized at around Rs 600-800 crore. In terms of volumes, close to 30-35 per cent of the total condoms sold annually are flavoured or coloured variants.
The good news for the private players is that in last five years, according to the experts, the subsidised segment has de-grown and commercial segment is growing. This shows a clear skew towards brand preference and the willingness to pay for a preferred brand.
Besides targeting a younger TG through ATL and digital communication, there are other recent changes the condom category has seen. While previously, retailers wouldn't allow brands to put up in-shop posters, the modern retail setting offers a separate display shelf for the category. While we may still be years away from well-placed vending machines and public dispensers that spurt condoms in exchange for loose change, it is noteworthy that the product is now being sold at many a cash counter today, right alongside other items meant to invoke impulse purchases.
While modern trade accounts for 8-10 per cent of the overall category, pharmacies are a bigger chunk. India, say experts, is still a "smaller town country" and modern trade is more popular in big cities. Despite the best branding efforts, consumers (and in many cases, shopkeepers too) in most towns still want to minimise the in-shop transaction time, while buying the product. If his preferred brand is not available, the buyer seldom argues with the retailer or insists that he search for it. Certainly, ordering condoms online would offer some much needed privacy. Several websites, such as condombazaar.com, healthkart.com, buymecondom.com and privyshop.com, among many others, afford consumers this convenient option. Skore offers private purchase through its app, that is synced with m-store.
In the days ahead, experts predict more activation-led campaigns on part of condom brands. Skore, for one, known to spend as much 75 per cent of its annual marketing budget on TV advertising, will concentrate a lot more on BTL in the near future. This change too, has a lot to do with changing socio-cultural attitudes towards the category.