Sex appeal across the world

Hatu, Ramses and Kohinoor condoms are making way for Durex. Helen Jones explains
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The Independent Online
In Britain Durex is as generic a term for condoms as Hoover is for vacuum cleaners. But in some markets the brand glories in more exotic names. Ramses may mean nothing more to you than a long-dead Egyptian pharaoh synonymous with school history lessons, but in America it spells sex.

But Ramses, along with Sheik, Hatu and the even more improbable Kohinoor, are to lose their prominence in favour of the more prosaic Durex as London International Group, the parent company, embarks on a globalisation programme and brings the Durex name to the fore. The development is the latest move in the company's attempt to put behind it the disaster of the early 1990s, when its diversification into such areas as photo-processing and cough mixtures led it to the brink of collapse. Earlier this year, under new management, it reported a 72 per cent rise in annual pre-tax profits, to pounds 26.2m.

Until recently only 50 per cent of LIG's condoms were branded as Durex but now 90 per cent of its condom business will carry the name.

Clive Kitchener, the marketing director, says that the rationale for the globalisation is based on a number of factors: "It will increase shareholder value and build market share as well as allowing us to generate international communication and maximise the benefit of our marketing activities."

However, he concedes that it is not a process that happens overnight and that local sensibilities have to be taken into account. "We have to balance the heritage and parentage of Durex with the significant local equity in certain names. Hatu, for example, has been a brand in Italy for 70 years. We can't just replace the name totally because there is a lot of loyalty to it."

Instead Hatu, Ramses and the rest will become part of the Durex "family" through the use of a large Durex "seal of quality" on the packaging, which will allow LIG to maximise efficiency and differentiate its product from local competitive brands.

The company is also on the acquisition trail. This year it has bought up a Spanish condom company as well as Aladan Corporation, one of America's biggest manufacturers of condoms. Further acquisitions are planned and the Durex branding will allow LIG to bring these companies into the fold.

LIG is now focusing on a consistent marketing and communications programme and has increased its worldwide advertising budget from pounds 20m to pounds 30m. Part of this includes a return to television and cinema advertising within the constraints of different advertising guidelines for condoms in different countries - in America, for example, condoms can only be advertised on satellite television. LIG also has to consider differing consumer sensibilities and attitudes to condoms in its markets around the world.

Across Europe a television and cinema campaign was aired last year featuring a blind man, emphasising the sensuality of the brand. This was followed by a press campaign developed by McCann-Erickson, the advertising agency, which featured a naked couple in the middle of a passionate embrace with picture bubbles capturing their fantasies to give a fresher approach to safer sex.

LIG is now planning advertising campaigns across the emerging markets of eastern and southern Europe.

The company is backing this up with a sponsorship programme on MTV covering Europe, America and South-east Asia in a bid to attract a younger audience and spread the safe sex message. A widespread sampling scheme is also in place.

Mr Kitchener says: "Another important development for us has been the launch of our own Internet site, which helps us to communicate Durex brand values in an interactive and fun way and reinforces the visual identity and branding. It has a lot of entertaining stuff on there but still delivers the message."

While LIG is pushing into new markets and trying to establish Durex as a worldwide brand, in the UK - one of its strongest markets - it is, ironically, facing growing competition. Boots the Chemist has launched its own-label condoms and it is rumoured that the supermarket chain Asda may be considering a similar move.

However, LIG is not perturbed by interlopers. A company spokeswoman says: "On the whole it is probably a good thing. Any marketing and advertising spend Boots may put behind its own-label brand may have a knock-on effect and boost condom sales generally. Its pricing structure may have a bigger effect on smaller makers of condoms than on us."