Using social media to sell condoms in China
Back during my days at the University of Winnipeg – PACE, I had a unique assignment in a course called “Cultural Dimensions and Environmental Influences.” The task was to explore a cultural obstacle faced by a company aiming to expand its presence in a foreign country. While my classmates chose more conventional topics, I ventured into the intriguing territory of condom sales in China.
Selling Condoms in China
Condoms play a crucial role in promoting safe sex. In a country like China, with its one-child policy, you’d think condom brands like Trojan, Durex, and Lifestyle would have an easy time selling their products. However, there’s a significant obstacle—China views sex as a highly taboo subject.
The One-Child Policy
China introduced the one-child policy in 1979 to curb population growth when the country approached one billion citizens. The policy involved fines, forced abortions, and sterilization to dissuade families from having more than one child. Astonishingly, this policy still stands after more than three decades, with 80% of the Chinese population supporting it.
A Taboo Topic
Despite these strict measures, only one out of ten sexually active individuals in China uses condoms. Conversations about sex are often met with avoidance, particularly among the younger generation. The lack of sex education, especially for the young, contributes to this issue, with less than 40% of young people in China receiving sexual education in school.
The One to Stand Out
In 2010, RB pic, a UK consumer goods company, acquired SSL International, the manufacturer of Durex condoms. Durex held a 30% market share in China at that time, which RB pic aimed to increase. Traditional advertising in China was expensive and competitive, with prime spots costing three to five times more than elsewhere. Additionally, China’s younger generation spent more time online than watching TV.
Overcoming Traditional Media
RB pic decided to approach this challenge differently. They built a strong online presence, focusing on the 600 million internet users in China. By utilizing Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, with 368 million users, Durex was able to reach a vast audience.
Getting the Message Across
Durex identified key influencers on Weibo, individuals with large followings who frequently updated their posts. They engaged with these influencers, even sending one flowers and condoms when he posted about relationship issues. This creative approach had a significant impact, especially among the younger generation.
Creating a Friendly Face
Durex also created a cartoon-like character named Little Dudu, who provided safe sex advice and connected with Weibo users through humor. This character’s posts, like one about using condoms to protect shoes from rain, went viral and reached over 50 million users.
Creating an In-Group
Durex’s efforts on Weibo not only educated young people about safe sex but also fostered a sense of community. They developed a team that posted 8-12 times a day, organized events, and aimed to build awareness and friendships.
In the words of Ben Wilson, Marketing Director of Reckitt Benckiser, “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”
Conclusion and Call to Action
In the ever-evolving landscape of business and marketing, we’ve seen how a creative approach to social media can transform the way a brand interacts with its audience. Durex’s success story in China serves as a reminder that even in challenging markets, innovative strategies can break through barriers.
Now, it’s your turn. Whether you’re a multinational corporation or a budding startup, the potential of social media is within your reach. The key lies in creating content that resonates with your audience, forming meaningful connections, and adapting to the digital age.
As you’ve learned from this article, social media isn’t just a platform for advertising—it’s a space to build friendships, foster communities, and convey your brand’s message in a way that engages and educates.
So, what’s your next step? How can you harness the power of social media to propel your business forward? Share your thoughts, questions, and ideas in the comments below. Let’s continue this conversation, and together, we can unlock the full potential of social media for your brand.