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.


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