20 July, 2012

Condoms come out into the light of day

Melbourne Herald Sun, July 20, 2012

We don't get many kids reading this column so I feel safe covering a delicate subject: the marketing of condoms.

Once I worked on the Ansell account and got excited when restrictions were taken off the promotion of condoms - I thought I might be able to write Australia's first French letter. Alas it was years before they launched onto the public screens.

But in the intervening time we have seen their coming out, so to speak. They are now a major marketing commodity, with acres of supermarket shelf space devoted to the little packets. These are no longer discreet monotones, either. Today's boxes are big, bold colourful and inevitably feature a beautiful couple eager to sample the contents.

We see these dreamy pairs everywhere. Not just inside the back door of public toilets but on the streets, in the billboards, at the movies and on TV. Sex is a mainstream commodity.

As you would expect, the personal subject matter of the product is perfectly suited to personal media and mobile phone apps.

Durex, for example has just launched the "In-Sync Song Generator", in the US, but no doubt soon to be seen here.

This little program requires answers to a series of questions about your preferences: what times do you prefer, how much variety, how energetic, how loud. Through Facebook you pass the quiz to your partner to complete. You have now identified your styles.

It will then select songs for every occasion. Sounds like this will need experimentation and practice to get the balance right.

All the major companies these days have very well-tended web sites. They have romance advice, games for couples, and catalogues of products that will amaze.

In fact, the world's second-biggest condom company is Australian. These days much of its headquarters and manufacturing is controlled from New Jersey, but corporate head office is still in Richmond. Eric Ansell was an employee of Dunlop who bought their second-hand condom making machine, in 1905, and set up his own little workshop.

Later down the line he was manufacturing surgical and work gloves, toy balloons, and a range of rubber-based medical equipment. By the twenties his sons were in the business, and in the sixties his grandson was running it. In 1969 it was acquired by Dunlop and went back into the fold.

Ironically by 2002 it was Pacific Dunlop that was ailing, They finally divested their many clothing and shoe brands, put their whole focus on healthcare and became - Ansell Limited. What goes around comes around.

It goes to show where the money is these days. Less in heavy manufactured goods, more and more in consumables - use it once and throw it away, the perfect product. It's estimated that by 2015 the world will need 18.6 billion condoms. Don't think too hard about it, just consider the money that will be involved.

Here in Australia business is booming. Julian McCrann of Roy Morgan Research reports that two million Australians bought condoms in the six months to March this year.

A third more men than women purchased them. The biggest buyers were Queenslanders, at 12 per cent, whereas Tasmanians only bought 4.5 per cent. And keep your regional jokes to yourself. Victorians and New South Welshmen were level pegging at around 10.5 per cent.

We'll have the opportunity to learn much more about the topic next year, when Melbourne becomes host city for The International AIDS Conference 2012. All the world's experts will be here - 25,000 of them - so expect to be hearing more about the serious, life-saving importance of the little condom.

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