Durex's latest campaign shows how content overpowers advertising in driving purpose

Hamsini Shivakumar, Founder, Leapfrog Strategy Consulting, explains that as brands are increasingly expected to have responsible conversations within their category, content has become the way to go

Hamsini Shivakumar
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Social media has become known for having conversations around social good. Or around whatever is plaguing society at a given time. And if you don’t speak up about these issues, you are thought to be ignorant, apathetic or showing your support for the wrong side of the discussion through your silence. This is especially true if you’re a content creator or a celebrity.

Because, as has been true ever since social media began amplifying the influential, the public version of you must be the ideal version of you. And in a time where your political correctness determines whether you get ‘cancelled’, being vocal about social issues is a preliminary step to public admiration.

Given how brands want to be where their audience is, they’ve learnt to align their content with this requirement. Aside from putting out memes, the other popular fodder for virtual inhabitants, they’ve also got the hang of being ‘woke’.

This compulsion of sorts has created a great opportunity for brands who, before joining social media, were held back from having bold yet relevant conversations with consumers simply because of the many eyebrows their category is capable of raising (think feminine hygiene and sexual wellness).

A need gap that ads aren’t capable of addressing since one, they have to be tame to run on public screens, and two, the issues they highlight are always fighting for space with the product, as their primary purpose is to sell. Especially compared to content that holds greater possibilities for meaningful contribution to consumers’ lives.

You’ll find this reflected in Durex’s recent content-driven campaign for Durex Invisible. To get audiences invested in the launch of their product, Durex tried stirring controversy by asking Instagram users if they wanted to forget condoms and had popular figures like Vikrant Massey, Bani Singh, Varun Sood, Dolly Singh and Radhika Madan engage with the question. They later revealed this to be the premise for their new condom that’s so thin, it’s practically invisible.

Luckily for us, they’ve also released an ad which we can place side-by-side with their content to better demonstrate the point we’ve been making.

The Ad

As their eyes meet across the room, a man and woman feel drawn to each other. Each step that brings them closer also leads to the evaporation of whatever stands between them, be it a party guest or their own item of clothing. The ad concludes with their evening wear collapsing in a heap as the two disappear into a private space. The message: ‘Now nothing comes between you and unforgettable sex with India's Thinnest condom ever’.

20 seconds long, the ad is unable to highlight anything other than the product benefit. And even within the time available, it sets the product in a fantasy scape of no relevance to its average Indian user — an evening of socialisation between elites, largely populated by white foreigners (both guests and waiters), where women wear evening gowns and men formal party wear.

The Content

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Dolly Singh’s sketch 'How Aunties Talk About Sex' shows two caricaturesque aunties catching up over tea, talking about everything from a mutual friend’s love life to their own as hosting auntie’s daughter tries to listen in, much to her own shock.

The sketch interweaves Durex’s pre-launch question with a culturally relevant scenario. It mirrors life to confirm the viewer’s ideas about the world, thereby creating comfort. It also nurtures engagement through familiar codes of interaction found in our context: adults finding recreation in gossip; whispering about sex or discussing it in metaphors so awkwardly constructed that the subject matter becomes obvious; and occasions of inter-generational socialisation turning uncomfortable at the mention of sex.

Dolly’s other video '10 Things I Wish I Had Learned in Sex Ed', shared post the release of Durex Invisible, engages just as effectively.

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It associates the brand with positive and open-minded conversations around sex (Dolly explains consent and normalises female masturbation); relatable and funny experiences relating to sexual health (video highlights how getting a sex-health check-up can feel embarrassing and physically uncomfortable); and with raising awareness around sex and gender diversity (Dolly features Trinetra Gummaraju to represent transgender women).

Both videos come to be more culturally encompassing than Durex’s ad, offer greater engagement than it does and start plenty of progressive conversations.

None of the content-led videos put out by the brand to promote the new product range is as good as Dolly’s. The other ones aren’t as ‘woke’ but because they don’t match up to Dolly in terms of creativity.

Created by celebrities who aren’t as reliant as influencers on social media engagement for their income and popularity, those videos feel a little bland and lacking in effort. They put forward valid points but only do so through straightforward conversations with the camera. And can you really call something content if it borders on being celebrity endorsement?

As it stands

As brands are increasingly expected to have responsible conversations within their category, the content has become the way to go. The format and the reduced restrictions allow conversation that is more relevant and feels more authentic.

(The author, Hamsini Shivakumar is a semiotician, brand strategy consultant and the founder of Leapfrog Strategy Consulting. In her weekly column for BuzzInContent, she and her team analyse interesting content pieces done by brands in terms of their cultural leverage and effectiveness of brand integration. According to her, the content has a symbiotic relationship to popular culture; it helps to form culture and draws from it. It works as part of a simultaneous and virtuous cycle of mutual reinforcement.)

Durex's latest campaign