Using social media to sell condoms in China

condom packages

Using social media marketing to sell condoms in China

A few years ago, I was taking a public relations, marketing, management diploma program at the University of Winnipeg – PACE. One of the courses that I had to take was Cultural Dimensions and Environmental Influences. I know it is a mouth full, but I had to take it. For the final paper, I had to write a cultural obstacle that a company had to overcome when trying to increase their stakes in a foreign country.  
So after searching a ton of companies and overhearing a lot of my classmates mention who they were planning to do, I stumbled upon Durex, and how they were able to increase sales by using social media in China. I figured what the hell, I might as well stand out and do something no one else would think of. Plus I was just that type of person to push the limits and and I still am. The worst part was finding out I would have to do stand up a presentation on the subject afterward in front of my classmates. 
So, now I have decided to post this paper that I wrote because it shows just how any company can use social media to marketing a product and use it to their advantage. 

Selling Condoms in China

condom packages

DATE October 20, 2014

Condoms can provide a means for couples to engage in safe sex. So to think, with a country like China with a one child policy in effect, brands such as Trojan, Durex, and even Lifestyle, must not have a hard time selling condoms. The question is, what happens when that particular country views sex as a very taboo topic?

The one child policy

In 1979, China introduced a policy that would only allow families to have one child. The central government of China introduced this policy as a way to reduce population growth.1 At the time, the population of China was approaching one billion citizens. The central government began handing out fines, pushing abortion, and even forcing sterilization to sway couples from having more than one child.2

This policy still stands thirty-five years afterward, and eighty percent of the population in China agree with the policy. Many of which, if had the choice, would still only prefer to have one child.

A taboo topic

Even after harsh fines, pushing abortion, and forcing sterilization, the facts are only one out of ten sexually active users in China use condoms.3 When you look at a population with such restrictions on childbirth and a citizenship of 1.3 billion, one would think that condom sales should be soaring. The fact is, many citizens in China find that conversations about sex are of bad taste. Having a conversation about this sort of topic is met with a lot of avoidance especially among the younger generations.

Little Sex Educationsad-condom

Safe sex practices are not taught like they are in western cultures. Especially among young people, where sex is not talked about. Less than forty percent of young people in China took sexual education in school.4 Most young, unmarried women are not aware that they can even become pregnant, until after they are forced to have an abortion.5 It has also been reported that more than 13 million abortions take place in China each year.6

 The lack of communication on safe sex practices and knowledge, even after having implemented a one child policy, has caused major condom brands to rethink how to approach the sales of condoms among the sexually active in China. With being such a taboo topic in general, one company has been able to stand out in the crowd. By not changing a strategy, but creating a new way of approaching safe sex, with nontraditional forms of advertising.

The one to stand out

Back in July 2010, RB pic, a UK consumer goods company purchased SSL International, the company that manufactures Durex condoms. Durex is known as the world’s leading condom manufacturer with a market share of twenty-five per cent. At the time of the purchase, Durex condoms had a 30 percent stake in the market share across China. Two years later RB pic has successfully increased that market share from 30 to 45 per cent. They did this by realizing what they had successfully done to market condoms elsewhere, just wouldn’t work in China.7

One of the biggest obstacles that RB pic had to overcome was the cost of advertising within China. Many of the prime advertising spots in major urban centres cost three to five times more in China. To make matters worse, it is a very competitive market. Many of China’s younger generation were born after 1980. This prime demographic for RB pic spend less time watching TV, and more time online.8

Overcoming traditional media

To combat these issues, RB pic approached this obstacle with a collectivist mindset. By building an online presence and ditching traditional forms of marketing. Durex would be able to market condoms to China’s 600 million internet users. Durex decided to deploy an online marketing strategy that would cost far less than traditional advertising.

The key issue with online marketing in China is that Facebook and Twitter have been banned by the Chinese government. With a site called Weibo, the Chinese Twitter that valued and promoted enrichment among users. Durex had the opportunity to get in front of 368 million users, which is ten times the population of Canada. Ben Wilson the marketing director of RB pic has stated “Weibo is the place where people who buy condoms spend a lot of time”.9

Getting that message across

Durex began looking into some of China’s top influencers on Weibo. By looking for top influencers Durex was able to get a message across to hundreds of young followers in a way that many of these young people could relate to. Durex began paying attention to key individuals, with large followings who would update frequently.

In one case, Durex went as far sending flowers and a box of condoms to one of these individuals who posted that he was having relationship problems. This turned out to be a brilliant marketing idea for Durex. The recipient posted a photo for 300,000 of his followers, showing what he had received from Durex.10 By using collective powers, Durex was making huge strides with a taboo subject over a young generation.

Creating a friendly face
Little dudu Durex Condoms
Little dudu

Some other key successes that RB pic used to develop sales across China was by creating a cartoon-like character named Little Dudu. Armed with a Weibo account and a comical side, Little Dudu set out to build an audience for Durex; by sending out funny photos and videos to connect with other Weibo users, while providing safe sex advice to all of Little Dudu’s followers. By doing this, Little Dudu was able to provide a young generation with information on such taboo topic among the Chinese culture.

One of the biggest impacts that Little Dudu had for Durex on Weibo was back in 2011 when Beijing was hit by flash floods. Little Dudu posted that he was happy to have two condoms in his pockets, along with a photo of a man putting a condom on his shoes to protect them from becoming wet. This post went viral, and within three days had been shared with, well over 50 million Weibo users.

Condoms on shoes
The photo that went viral
Creating an in-group

What Durex had done with Weibo, not only helped a generation of young people learn about sex in a fun interactive way, but created a strong in-group. Durex has built a strong team of individuals who strive to provide young people with information 8-12 times a day. This team has also been planning events for young people to help build more awareness and connect with their friends.11

“What we do is to connect lots of people, who are passionate about the brand, so that they will ultimately choose Durex when it comes to buying. We don’t use Weibo to force consumers to buy our products. We instead use it to build friendships” 

– Ben Wilson, Marketing director of Reckitt Benckiser

“Durex managed to break into a very tough market by doing a very simple thing, like creating a friendship. But Durex has not only been able to create friends with condoms but have also managed to stay friendly with the government.”

Which is one of the biggest factors of doing business in China!



It doesn’t matter if you are a international multi-million dollar company, or a fresh start up looking to create an audience. Social media can, and will help out your company if you make the right choices and create a brand/image that people can recognize and relate to.

I plan to write more posts on how social media can help out your business. But gathering information to create strong content is something I take pride in. And something you should too. Its all about content when you trying to market on social media. More content, more reasons for people to view your website!


What did you think of this article, do you have any questions or comments?