Condom campaign falls flat


Brands looking to raise the bar with social media marketing should heed lessons from Durex’s recent hoax campaign explosion.  


International consumer furore erupted last week in response to a social media hoax by condom manufacturer Durex. A press release, published on Twitter by Durex, launching a new aubergine-flavoured condom, got consumers into a lather after Durex later revealed the hoax was a misfired attempt to raise awareness of the need for sex-themed emojis.

It appears Durex has been lobbying US company Unicode, the California-based coding consortium that acts as a gatekeeper for permissible emojis, to introduce a condom-themed pictograph, and the aubergine or eggplant, with its elongated ovoid shaft, is the emoji of choice among younger generations when discussing coitus via digital devices.

Safe sex messages, funny fruits, and more double-entendres than a Bangkok night market. With all these ingredients there’s clearly a lot of fun to be had. So why did Durex’s social media campaign fall flat?


Trusting relationship?

When consumers invite brands into their Twitter feeds and curated content                        there is a trust lgjcmtjw_400x400-150x150expectation that comes with the territory. When that trust is broken it can be very difficult to get back. For a prophylactics manufacturer, there is obviously very high risk in testing the trust of the consumer through hoax marketing. Time will tell whether Durex’s consumers lose faith in the company’s product messages.

Frolicking must be fun! 

Brands looking to start conversations with their consumers in this way is not new. In 2009 Australia’s Cinderella Jacket Man campaign had us believing in love at first sight; in 2014 Hi-Tec Manufacturing had us walking on water with its Liquid Mountaineering campaign. There have been countless others.

Whether promising true love or impossible feats of physical prowess, the social hoax campaign must carry one essential ingredient to ensure success – it mustentertain. If you’re going to fool people into believing your campaign, once the ruse is revealed their disappointment cannot be greater than the fun they’ve had on the journey.

Is that a condom or a cardigan?

Did Durex over-think this campaign? The company’s stated ambition to play a role in the creation of sex-themed emojis is a positive, if somewhat self-serving, cause. It provides a terrific launching pad for community conversations about safe sexual practices. Why then did the company feel the need to trick consumers into the conversation?

A consumer competition – moderated for tasteful submissions – asking people to suggest useful emojis to help elicit coital conversations in digital space, is a no-brainer which could have led to numerous spin-off campaigns and messages.

Sex in any language?

According to the South China Morning Post, Durex’s campaign caused most outrage in vegan-rich India where the humble aubergine is a staple of numerous national dishes.

Cross-cultural communication creates obvious pitfalls for brands in any sector. For a condom manufacturer the stakes are higher. To avoid cultural faux pas, Durex should have thought more about the feelings of its diverse audience, and again, inviting consumers to provide their own suggestions to add to the emoji conversation would have short-circuited critical blowback.

Have you ever fallen for a social media hoax campaign? How did you feel after the ruse was lifted? Inspired to go and buy the product? Cheated or misled? None of the above?

Feel free to comment below in text or emoji.


Politics of fear? Yes, we can!

picture1-1024x688Apologies in advance for giving fear more air time with this post, but we at Horizon felt that trends in global politics during 2016 warrant closer analysis.

The politics of fear is not unfamiliar. Just ask the opponents of the Gillard government’s carbon tax. But it’s rare to see it play out in so many countries in the same year.

In 2016 fear has been at the centre of political strategies that have reshaped the world. From London to Brussels, Beijing to Manilla, Canberra to Washington – in this Year of The Monkey fear has been a potent weapon in public affairs.

Rodrigo Duterte successfully convinced “large numbers of his people that drug use constitutes such an emergency that the very existence of the nation is threatened, and that only his rule can save the Philippines. It’s the oldest autocratic trick in the book.”[i] Duterte’s campaign, aided by advertisements like THIS, successfully lured 38% of the popular vote in a five-candidate race.

Whilst the rhetoric used in the Brexit referendum was less frightening, the outcome, at least for proponents of free trading blocks, was not. By pulling on fears of cuts to the UK’s National Health System, the Vote Leave campaign successfully exploited deep national pride in the country’s universal health system despite there being no evidence continued EU membership would impact the NHS in any way.

After the reality of the Brexit vote sunk in, ‘leavers’ began to realise the NHS would be no better off under a leave scenario. Many now support remaining in the EU, despite that no longer being an option.

In the US Donald Trump veers violently towards the rhetoric of fear to drum up his base. Whether his campaign advertisements will succeed in luring additional voters remains to be seen. What they have done is help to shape the Clinton communications campaign which has also gone the fear path – albeit a ‘fear Trump’ path, ably abetted by analysis of her opponent’s shortcomings.

In Australia we are not immune. The Mediscare tactics of the ALP’s recent federal campaign nearly tipped the balance of power back to Labor and who could forget the two years of fear campaigning waged by the Abbott-led Liberal party in the lead-up to the 2013 federal election.

So, why is the exploitation of fear such a proven method of political communications? And can hope trump fear in 2016?

Justin Trudeaux clearly believes his presidency owes much to hope, elected on a platform similar to that of Barack Obama in 2008 who famously made hope the centrepiece of his presidential candidacy. In 2016 the ALP tried its own version with its ‘100 positive policies’ agenda designed to position the alternative government throughout the protracted 8-week campaign.

It’s a curious thing that analysis of hope versus fear in public discourse is affected by the very thing that makes fear such a proven commodity – the media.

If we apply Cultivation Theory to this conversation we can conclude that, as long as the mass media gravitates to human, environmental and economic calamity, the preponderance of messages espousing fear will continue to be de rigour in public discourse. The result of this is a public living in a heightened sense of ‘fear-readiness’, where the fear buttons are more easily exploited.

Short-circuiting this paradigm to have people think more logically gets harder the more afraid (or willing to be afraid) the public is. When a confluence of issues – i.e. economics, illegal immigrants, health, security, et al – come together you’ve got the right cocktail for exploiting fear.

Time will tell if the US will allow fear to trump hope this November.