How Condoms Work

Free Condoms vs. Cheap Condoms: Social Marketing

­If you see a condom ad in a magazine, bus station or doctor's office, it might not have anything to do with a condom-maker looking to turn a profit. Organizations that have no financial stake in the condom business want people to buy and use condoms for the sake of public health. This use of marketing tools to change social behavior is called social marketing.

The social marketing of condoms has two main components. First, a government agency or other organization buys condoms to sell at a discount or works with manufacturers to subsidize their cost, absorbing some of the financial burden so the public has to spend less money. The goal is for condoms to be affordable rather than free since people are more likely to use something they paid for. The rule of thumb is that a year's supply of condoms should cost no more than 1 percent of the target country's per-capita gross national product (GNP) [source: Harvey]. 

The next step is to spread the word about condoms and their use. This part is as important to the campaign as the condoms themselves. For example, the government of Thailand used a marketing campaign to encourage commercial sex workers to use condoms in 100 percent of their sexual encounters. In 1989, before the campaign started, 14 percent of sex workers consistently used condoms. By 1994, that number had risen to 94 percent. During the same period, bacterial STD cases diagnosed among sex workers fell from 410,406 per year to 29,362 [source: UNAIDS].

In some parts of the world, particularly in developing nations, most condom marketing is social marketing. For example, in 2000, the government of South Africa purchased 290 million condoms for social marketing; the government of Botswana purchased 12 million. The same year, social marketing was responsible for the distribution of 450 million condoms in India [source: Allen].

Of course, condom manufacturers also have a hand in marketing their products. In addition to following applicable truth-in-advertising laws, manufactures in most parts of the world have to adhere to decency and morality laws because of the nature of their product. Failure to comply runs the risk of everything from banning to legal action. In addition, many nations classify condoms as drugs because of their role in preventing disease. For this reason, advertisements and packing often have to carry specific language or warnings. Similar regulations apply to everything from what condoms are made of to how they are manufactured.