Some Thoughts on Nudge Theory

PSI has been in the business of behavioral change ever since its inception, leveraging identified determinants of behavior to influence behavioral outcomes in our target audience. Hence why we entered the field of social marketing, because it taps into behavioral change theory. And it works.

More recently, there has been a dialogue in academia around “nudge theory” and behavioral economics, which is basically a new label for what PSI realized over 40 years ago. But since we rarely engage on these topics of “heuristics” or “nudge marketing,” likely because we feel we understand them completely already, I wanted to share a few notable observations on the discussions being had around nudge marketing, since I think the discussion has evolved to a point where we can start applying some of the lessons learned – particularly when it comes to influencing shoppers behavior.

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Origins of Nudge Theory:

So everyone is on the same page, nudge theory is all about encouraging individuals to make better choices (as understood in the context of public health, economic well being, etc.). The craze started around 2008, when former Obama administration regulatory affairs administrator Cass R. Sunstein and the University of Chicago professor Richard H. Thaler published their book “Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness,” which was a popularization of the work done by Nobel Prize-winning psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky back in the 1970s (around the same time PSI adopted this thinking).

Thaler-Sunstein think of nudge theory as follows:

“…A nudge, as we will use the term, is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates. Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not…”

So you can see that nudge theory is not about enforcement but about persuasion. It’s about creating an environment, or offering subtle queues, that encourages individuals to make better decisions.

And if you think about it, that’s what social marketing is – the science of persuasion. For a fun video on the science of persuasion, check out the below from Dr. Robert Cialdini, Professor of Marketing and Psychology at Arizona State University:

In the video, you will see that the author writes about 6 key universal shortcuts that guide people’s behavior and that can be leveraged to influence the behavior of others:

  • Reciprocity – social obligation to give when you receive
  • Scarcity – people want more of what they can have less of
  • Authority – people follow advice of experts
  • Consistency – people usually stick to things after a small commitment has been made
  • Liking – people prefer to say yes to those people they like.
  • Consensus – people look to the action and behavior of others to determine their own.

Now these fundamental channels for persuasion can easily be used by marketers to influence people’s decisions, and they have been for years. And the video does a good job of highlighting some of these campaigns, such as the one done for the British Airways Concord Flight and how waiters can increase their tips.

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Nudge Theory and Behavioral Economics

You may ask why the need for nudging at all. That is, couldn’t we simply tell people what they need to know and hope that they make a rational decision with the information at hand? This is something that governments, donors, and even a few of our own PSI staff often suggest. But the problem is that behavioral economics shows that people are not rational when it comes to choices. If they were, we could simply state the facts and expect people to make better decisions.

The problem is that making decisions sucks. It’s frustrating for people and actually causes physical discomfort. So when it comes down to making decisions, they need to rely on shortcuts or quick tricks to help them make decisions quickly. This also applies to shopping, where we have to engage in an economic trade and could potentially lose out. Daniel McFadden, a Professor of Economics at Berkeley who recently published “The New Science of Pleasure,” (view it here) puts it this way:

“Trade is a contest, with a chance of coming out on the short end. Animals in “fight or flee” situations often find it safer to flee. Similarly, people in situations where trade is possible, or even promising, may find it safer to turn away. It takes trust to trade. McDonald’s is successful because it has created a brand people trust – they know what to expect. A “30-day free trial” or “satisfaction or your money back” or “bring us a better price and we will refund the difference” are offers by merchants intended to promote the idea that they can be trusted, and that the risk of an unsatisfactory trade is low.

Real estate agents take advantage of people’s discomfort with decision-making. Since buying a house is highly consequential and difficult to reverse, rational people should look at a great many options and think them through very carefully. A good agent will show you a few houses that are expensive and not very nice, and then one at almost the same price and far nicer. Many buyers will respond by stopping their search and jumping on this bargain. Our susceptibility to “bargains” is one of the cognitive devices we use to simplify choice situations, and one that companies are conscious of when they position their products.”

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Lessons from Nudge Theory

So you might be asking yourself, what does all of this have to do with selling condoms? Well, a lot actually. Because people rely on cognitive devices or shortcuts to simplify their decision making and behavioral choices, it’s important for social marketers to understand how to leverage these devices and shortcuts to improve our impact.

A few key takeaways from recent applications of, and discussions about, nudge theory:

Nudge marketing calls for applying just the right amount of pressure to persuade: not too little, not too much.

In one early test at a store in Virginia, grocery carts carried a strip of yellow duct tape that divided the baskets neatly in half; a flier instructed shoppers to put their fruits and vegetables in the front half of the cart. Average produce sales per customer jumped to $8.85 from $3.99.

Here in El Paso a few months ago, the researchers focused on the floor, laying down large plastic mats bearing huge green arrows that pointed shoppers to the produce aisle. The outcome surprised no one more than the grocer.

“In retail, the customer tends to go to the right,” said Tim Taylor, the produce director for Lowe’s, Pay and Save, a regional grocery chain that let the scientists in to experiment with their arrows and mirrors. “But I watched when the arrows were down, pointing left, and that’s where people went: left, 9 out of 10.”

With those same guinea-pig customers, the scientists tinkered again with the cart, creating a glossy placard that hung inside the baskets like the mirrors. In English and Spanish, the signs told shoppers how much produce the average customer was buying (five items a visit), and which fruits and vegetables were the biggest sellers (bananas, limes and avocados) — information that, in scientific parlance, conveys social norms, or acceptable behavior.

By the second week, produce sales had jumped 10 percent, with a whopping 91 percent rise for those participating in the government nutrition program called Women, Infants and Children. Lowe’s was so excited that it now plans to put the placards in every cart at its 22 stores in El Paso and nearby Las Cruces, N.M., and perhaps later at all 146 of its stores.

Nudge marketing calls for applying just the right amount of pressure to persuade: not too little, not too much. In the El Paso grocery trials, using both the green arrows on the floor with the green placards in the carts caused produce sales to fall.

“It nudged too hard,” Mr. Payne said.

(Excerpts from NYTimes, “Nudged to the Produce Aisle by a Look in the Mirror,” 8/27/13)

Social Networks Matter:

Economic demographer Hans Peter Kohler (2001) has investigated the effect of word-of-mouth communication from friends on choice of contraceptive. He studies Korean peasant women, who have access to relatively little public information on efficacy, costs, and side effects of new contraceptives. Choices within villages show little diversity, but there is substantial, persistent diversity across villages.

This pattern not explained by income, education, or price differences. Word of mouth communication from friends was found to be the important explanation of most women’s choices. Lack of inter-village mobility explained multiple equilibria, with persistent inter-village differences. Thus, some apparent taste heterogeneity is due to the boundedly rational practice of imitation in balkanized social networks.

The moral is that any complete measurement system for consumer behavior must account for social network effects. Suggestions for measurement are that stated perceptions and preferences should be conditioned on the behavior of members in an individual’s social network, and the distribution of consumption in social equilibrium should be modeled as the (often non-unique) solution to a game in which choices of peers matter.

(Excerpts from “The New Science of Pleasure,” by Daniel L. McFadden, January, 2013)

Grocers are Already Applying Nudge Theory to The Shopping Experience

THE SWEETEST ITEMS are sold at eye level, midway along aisles, where shoppers’ attention lingers longest.

THE ENDS OF AISLES are huge revenue generators, especially for soda, which makes 45 percent of its sales through racks there, according to the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council.

IMPULSE PURCHASES (60 percent of purchases are unplanned) can be encouraged by placing items next to checkouts.

FREE-STANDING DISPLAYS are also effective toward the rear of the supermarket and on the left side of aisles. Research cited by the Coca-Cola council shows that shoppers move through the store counterclockwise, from the back to the front; in the aisles, they buy items mostly from shelves to their left.

SPRINKLING THE SAME PRODUCT throughout the store, rather than grouping it in one spot, will boost sales through repetitive exposure.

GROUPING THE INGREDIENTS for a meal in one spot can attract home cooks pressed for time.

POSTING HEALTH-RELATED INFORMATION — online, and on kiosks and shelf tags — can link groceries to good health in shoppers’ minds, even though only 23 percent of them say they always look for nutritional information on labels.

(Excerpts from NYTimes, “Nudged to the Produce Aisle by a Look in the Mirror,” 8/27/13)

Social marketers should leverage the identified cognitive devices (in addition to our internal behavioral determinants terminology) when thinking about new social marketing efforts and trade marketing efforts

(Excerpt from “Nudge Theory,” on http://www.businessballs.com, 2013-2014)

Happy Valentine’s Day – The World Cup of Sex

From what seems the dawn of time (really the Middle Ages), lovers have been celebrating the day of St. Valentine or Valentine’s Day. And why stop such a rosy tradition? Affection shown in the form of symbolic confection (chocolate is the golden ticket), roses expressing the purity and rarity of the love shared, handwritten notes pouring one’s heart out for their significant other – it’s an alluring and deeply human holiday, where two people can let it all out with the hopes of affirming their eternal bond.

Of course, some see the holiday as just a way of getting lucky. It’s akin to New Year’s Eve, where even if you are single, you probably are going to get some sugar when the clock strikes midnight. Even single people live it up on Valentine’s Day, as evidenced by the special bar events and wild parties thrown around the world to help single people light a spark.

But whether you are single or not, you probably are in the business of man and woman business on Valentine’s Day. And if that’s the case, you better use a condom (unless you are planning on having a baby). But it’s easy to see why we should all consider today to be the Super Bowl, nay the World Cup, of condoms.

Sitting here on the shores of lovely Lake Malawi, amidst couples spooning and strolling the beach hand in hand, I realize that condom brands probably don’t take full advantage of this holiday. And why not?

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For the past week, I have been listening to either Ugandan or Malawian radio, both heavily promoting the holiday almost on a full time basis. In Uganda, radio talk show hosts were gabbing about everything sex related – Kim Kardashian’s new full frontal nude shots in some lusty magazine in the states, which devolved into a comparison of Ugandan super models fashion sense and sex tapes versus the sex tapes and low cut brassieres we see donned by the Kardashian clan (somehow these were seen as “classy”), which turned into a heated dialogue about how Ugandan women should prepare for the holiday, which translated into a discussion on what kinds of expectations there were for men in the form of gifts, etc.

In Malawi, the radio hosts were joking all day today about what color the man needs to wear for the evening, recommendations about good gift ideas (pizza made the list, not sure why), and they even shared their number for callers to dial in and send voice greetings to their significant others.

So where are all the condom brands for this holiday? I noticed at least 3-4 massive night club parties being promoted by the countries’ respective beer brands and cellular networks, each with a love-related theme, special guest artists, and ways of engaging (in Uganda, Uganda Waragi was holding a singles party where each woman received a lock and each man received a key, and at the end of the night, the men would go around and “unlock” their new sweetheart – imagine the condom promotion that could have been done!).

thai condomsAbove: Thai Teenagers think of Valentine’s Day as the perfect day to lose their v-card, adding to the countries out of control teenage pregnancy rate.

Instead, we see governments and religious leaders leveraging the special day to promote abstinence – a failed and unrealistic approach that never works in cutting down unplanned pregnancies or preventing the transmission of HIV. In Thailand, due to the escalating rate of teenage pregnancies, the government has urged teenagers to go to dinner tonight instead of losing their virginity (Media surveys indicate that Valentine’s Day is the most popular day for Thai teenagers to lose their virginity). And in nearby Indonesia, a few angry Muslim clerics are about to issue a fatwa against the sale of condoms because of recent cross promotions of condoms sold with chocolate.

A few condoms companies do see the potential and are cashing in (and yes, saving lives in the process). In India, Yes2Condom.com, an online retailer of condoms, reported that condom sales rise about 10-20% each year around this time.   And they support it by doing special value-added promotions, like free lubricant. Durex reports their global sales rise about 25% around Valentine’s Day. And in New York City, NYC Condoms (the world’s first municipal brand) has launched a Condom Finder App (download it here) to help you find condoms on your way to tonight’s festivities (or if you don’t live in NYC, you can use the www.condomfinder.org website for anywhere in the US).

condom finderAbove: The NYC Condom Finder can help you locate the free NYC Condom on your way out tonight.

Condom brands in Africa, as far as I can tell, are not tapping into this holiday. And this feels like a huge missed opportunity. The biggest condom brands in East Africa are in the business of public health, but ignoring something so obvious seems absurd, since today is – as I mentioned – the World Cup of sex. Can you imagine Nike or Adidas not advertising at major sporting events? What if Red Bull didn’t sponsor sky diving events? Or if Coca Cola didn’t promote itself at major summer events to remind people to cool themselves down with a drink? Those companies would be called insane – and probably would see a huge loss in sales.

I invite anyone who is reading this blog to share stories in the comments about brands that have tapped into this Valentine’s Day holiday anywhere in the world, let’s learn from each other how we can leverage this holiday to improve our impact in the prevention of HIV and unplanned pregnancies.

And also, I hope everyone gets lucky tonight…so here is some Lucky Dube.

Introducing the World’s First “Fairstainable” Condom!

While the condom category is dominated by a few large players, really just about a handful if you count, a German start up is trying to squeeze into the mix. They go by the name of “Einhorn,” which translates to “One Horn,” or in their case a Unicorn – the brand identity (probably based on the internet meme Charlie the Unicorn). But why a Unicorn?

I suspect the Unicorn-based brand is done tongue-in-cheek, in that they hope to bring about a never before seen way of doing business. Their business model is one that is completely transparent, whereby they will divulge their entire process online, with every decision made, to ensure there is 100% visibility on their supply chain to show that their product is truly sustainable. In fact, they coined a term for this mission: “fairstainable.”

“Right now, we’re 10% sustainable. Our goal is to have an 80-90% sustainable product in five years. Every time we improve, we’ll put it online and you can see what has changed. Even if people say something isn’t possible, we’ll aim for the best-case scenario and if we don’t make our target, we’ll get close and say so. But we won’t go round saying its 100% Fairtrade or whatever … this is all bullshit and people need to realize that.”

The brand hopes to bring about a revolution in the condom world, producing the first ethical, sustainable, and fun condoms ever. The packaging is also something new, reminiscent of what we have seen with Jeito, the package comes in the form of a chip-bag (see below).

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Above: While still in the design phase, Einhorn’s packaging is playful and highly targeted to a sophisticated, Generation Y target audience (25-35 years old).

Chip packagingAbove: If you donate a certain amount to their crowdfunding efforts, you can require personalized condom packages with your company’s logo!

The condoms themselves will come in two basic sizes, 54mm and 56mm, are transparent, and come with a slightly wider top to enhance the feel. Since one of their observations is that buying condoms is embarrassing, they will offer them for sale through mail order – with a weekly (7 units) or a yearly option (52 units, which seems kind of low for a year!). The target audience (25-35 year old Gen Y’ers) are likely to get a kick out of the brand identity online, and initial responses are very strong: Einhorn has launched a crowdfunding site and have raised €50,000 within 48 hours.

The team, led by a capitalist-turned social entrepreneur Waldemar Zeiler, started out this effort with basically no knowledge of condoms:

“We had no clue what we were doing,” he says. “But we worked together with a university in Germany [who are] experts on sustainable rubber production. We’ll go to Malaysia with German scientists and go through our plantations. Then we’ll test the soil and stay over there analysing stuff and make things better. This includes making sure the minimum wage is paid to workers and knowing what’s in the condoms.”

The entrepreneurs have started a scheme called the Entrepreneur’s Pledge based on the philanthropists’ equivalent, the Giving Pledge. They’re asking “serious entrepreneurs” and “kick ass CEOs” to fund at least one social business and give 50% of the profits to a good cause, as they are. Zeiler argues that charity giving isn’t an efficient way to spend money and suggests that a social business dollar has more impact. “If our business grows, the more revenue we make. And the more we can give back.”

Check out their teaser film below:

Check out their website here.

First Taste of Kampala

Even from the drive in from the international airport, I felt a buzz. It was Sunday night, in the wee hours of the morning, well after all the church goers had called it a day. And as I drove along the smoky highway, I kept passing bar after dukka after bar with neon lights and the rhythmic thump that signals a good time throughout Africa. The nightlife here in Kampala is alive, no matter the time or the day, and it’s like nothing else I have seen in East Africa yet (very reminiscent of West Africa with a dance party every 20 feet).

With all of this late night commiserating, it’s no surprise that this city of over 2 million (not to mention the other 35 million individuals living outside of the city!) buys a lot of condoms. Current estimates place the total market value of condoms around $5 million annually, which has remained fairly constant since 2011. And the good news is that most of these condoms are heavily subsidized, helping users have access for a very low price – approximately 2300 UGX for a 3-pack of condoms (or about $0.75).

But there is trouble in condom land. Despite the best efforts of social marketers over the past decade or so, the practice of making condoms incredibly affordable has created an expectation economy amongst wholesalers and retailers, where they take for granted the ability to purchase incredibly cheap condoms that offer massive margins (over 200%). Of course, there are very few private sector brands entering into the market place as well, priced much higher than the socially marketed brands, and they seem to be gaining some traction albeit statistically minor. But for the social marketing agencies, times are proving difficult as they try to balance their objectives of reaching those most in need (the lowest two SES quintiles) while recovering some of the necessary costs to operate such an operation. With donor support becoming less frequent, it’s becoming increasingly important for social marketing organizations to fill in the gaps and try to find their own streams of revenue to support their socially marketed condom programs (often from these very same programs).

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In Uganda, there are about 19 condom brands, with three main players in the social market space: Protector, Life Guard, and Trust. Protector takes the lion share of the social marketing share, selling in 2013 over 23 million units, while Life Guard and Trust own respectively less and less of the market. But a new player has entered that has me intrigued and is potentially the solution social marketers have been looking for: O Condom.

Launched by Uganda Health Marketing Group (UHMG), O Condom is a black, contoured, and studded condom designed to be a mid-tier compliment to UHMG’s Protector base brand. Its heavily promoted as a classier condom, an affordable aspirational brand in the category, to encourage trade up from the 3 “commodity” condoms (Protector, Life Guard, and Trust) that dominate the bottom of the market. UHMG launched the program to help support their social marketing efforts, as they lose money on every Protector sold, and thus far their strategy seems to be working: since the launch in 2010, they have grown market share steadily to a reported 14% as of 2014. Their price point is 150% of what the bottom three condoms are sold at to consumers, and in so doing the organization is able to generate some program income to cover their operating expenses.

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On day one, aside from the other wonderful things I noticed, this resonated: there is room for a mid-tier condom that 1) improves sector sourcing, ensuring those who can afford it trade up to the next tier brand and 2) can ensure sustainability of our big picture objectives, by providing an alternate means to support our heavily subsidized brands so that we can meet the entire market’s needs.

Keep following the story, more developments sure to come as I spend the week in the field learning how PACE Uganda works and what the plans are for the future…

Now You Can Have It All: Pizza and Sex

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Inspired by a scene from the hit TV-series Friends, wherein Joey has to choose between food and sex, Russian-based designer Marina Malygina has introduced the perfect condom: the pizza condom.

Aimed at taking advantage of the cultural dilemma many individuals face – sex or food – Malygina has designed a beautiful condom package that is sure to delight many people’s appetites for both.

Trojan Jumps on “50 Shades of Grey” Bandwagon With Parody Ad

Jumping on the band wagon of the upcoming launch of 50 Shades of Grey, Trojan has recently developed its own parody commercial entitled “50 Shades of Pleasure.”

As Valentine’s Day approaches in the US, the debut of the film 50 Shades of Grey, based on the incredible popular erotic book series, is creating a lot of buzz. And Trojan is the only notable condom brand leveraging this movie launch to cash in on the potential increase in sales.

In the online short ad, apparently done in house at Trojan, a couple recounts their sexual misadventures to a therapist in couples therapy. Several entertaining stories emerge, such as the man’s never actually reading the book, self-injury at the hands of a whip, a bizarre “safe word,” and a misunderstanding involving a ninja costume. At the end of the spot, we see the tagline “Get out of the grey area, into 50 shades of real pleasure,” hero’ing Trojan’s line extensions of vibrators and lubricants – all expected to see a boost in sales over the romantic holiday.

A 15-second version of the video will be played in select AMC and Regal theaters starting next week. Trojan shared the longer version with its social media audience and on its YouTube page here.

The $755 Condom Pack in Venezuela

Bloomberg Business recently reported on the alarming situation in Venezuela, where condoms (among other staple items) are becoming incredibly scarce due to high inflation and a lack of imported goods making their way to the country.

Durex and Trojan, a few of the more popular brands in the country, have nearly stocked out – except for a few black market channels or scarce-good auction sites, such as MercadoLibre, where you can still bid on a 36-pack of Trojans for around 4,760 bolivars (roughly one months wages) which translates to about $755.

Interestingly, there is still a supply of cheaper Asian-made condoms available in parts of the country; however, the stigma against these apparently low quality condoms have kept them on shelf, despite the lack of alternatives.  Interesting to see how important brand perceptions are even in the midst of a financial crisis.  A lesson that sometimes cheap and available is not all that matters to those in dire need…

Read the entire article below:

The $755 Condom Pack Is the Latest Indignity in Venezuela

Venezuelans who already must line up for hours to buy chicken, sugar, medicines and other basic products in short supply now face a new indignity: Condoms are hard to find and nearly impossible to afford.

“The country is so messed up that now we have to wait in line even to have sex,” lamented Jonatan Montilla, a 31-year-old advertising company art director. “This is a new low.”

A collapse in oil prices has deepened shortages of consumer products from diapers to deodorant in the OPEC country that imports most of what it consumes, with crude exports accounting for about 95 percent of its foreign currency earnings. As the price the country receives for its oil exports fell 60 percent in the past seven months, the economy is being pushed to the brink with a three-in-four chance of default in the next 12 months if oil prices don’t recover.

The impact of reduced access to contraceptives is far graver than frustration over failed hookups. Venezuela has one of South America’s highest rates of HIV infection and teenage pregnancy. Abortion is illegal.

“Without condoms we can’t do anything,” Jhonatan Rodriguez, general director at the not-for-profit health group StopVIH, said by phone Jan. 28 from Venezuela’s Margarita Island. “This shortage threatens all the prevention programs we have been working on across the country.”

Scarcity, Risks

The condom shortage, caused by a scarcity of dollars among importers, has prices on a website used to find scarce goods soaring and risks aggravating one of South America’s highest HIV infection and teenage pregnancy rates.

Condoms and other contraceptives disappeared from many Venezuelan pharmacies and clinics starting in late December, as the government tightened dollar disbursements amid sliding oil revenue, according to the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation. No condoms were available in 10 eastern and central Caracas pharmacies visited in late January, compared with as many as 20 different kinds available at some locations in November, including Reckitt Benckiser Group plc’s Durex and Church & Dwight Co.’s Trojan brands.

Infection Rate

Venezuela had the third-fastest rate of HIV infections per capita in South America, after Paraguay and Brazil in 2013, United Nations data shows. The country also has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies on the continent after Guyana, at 83 per 1,000, according to 2012 data from the World Bank. This compares to just 4 per 1,000 in Germany and 31 in the U.S.

On the auction website MercadoLibre, used by Venezuelans to obtain scarce goods, a 36-pack of Trojans sells for 4,760 bolivars ($755 at the official exchange rate), close to the country’s minimum monthly wage of 5,600 bolivars. At the unofficial black-market rate used by people with access to dollars, the cost is about $25, compared to $21 in the U.S.

A two-thirds drop in the value of Venezuelan oil since June has brought the country to the brink of a debt default, according to prices in the swaps market. Instead of cutting social spending, President Nicolas Maduro has responded to lower revenue by slashing imports.

This year Venezuela will import 42 percent less than in 2012 in dollar terms, according to Bank of America Corp. estimates.

Lining Up

Shortages of everything from flour to heart medicine have spiked since December. Hundreds of people line up outside Caracas supermarkets at delivery times to buy food or household products at subsidized prices. Protests against Maduro’s handling of shortages, inflation and crime left 43 people dead last year.

Lining Up at a Pharmacy in Caracas

People queue up outside a pharmacy in Caracas, on Jan. 20, 2015.

Photographer: Federico Parra/AFP via Getty Images

In Venezuela, with abortion illegal, the disappearance of contraceptives will raise the number of female deaths by driving more pregnant women to clandestine clinics, said Carlos Cabrera, vice president of the local branch of London-based International Planned Parenthood Federation. A lack of condoms will also leave a long-lasting economic impact by taking girls and young women away from schools and the work force, he said.

“An unwanted teenage pregnancy is a mark of government’s failure: failure of its economic, public health and educational policy,” said Cabrera, a practicing gynecologist in Caracas.

No Trust

In the town of Los Teques on the outskirts of Caracas, Ramo Verde pharmacy manager Katherine Munoz stood by a contraceptive shelf filled with Asian-made condoms. No Durex or Duo, a Beiersdorf AG product, have arrived in her shop since October, with stocks depleting last month, she said, adding that customers “don’t trust” the brands she has left.

“People ask me whether I have used them myself and can recommend them,” Munoz said. “I can’t say I have.”

Supplies of birth control and emergency contraceptive pills as well as anti-retroviral drugs for HIV patients are also at critically low levels, according to IPPF and StopVIH.

Durex imports to Venezuela have collapsed “because of the political situation the country is going through,” Reckitt Benckiser spokeswoman Priscilla Sotela said in an e-mailed response to questions. Church & Dwight didn’t respond to an e-mail and phone calls seeking comment

Maduro promised in 2013 to build a network of condom factories to protect Venezuela’s youth from the effects of “capitalist pornography.”

‘Ears Grow Hot’

“When the ears grow hot and nothing can wait, and everything must happen now or the world will end — that’s when you end up with a tremendous belly at 14 or 15 years of age,” he said in a televised address in June 2013. “This can’t be.”

None of the factories have been completed, according to the pharmaceutical federation President Freddy Ceballos.

Officials at Venezuela’s Health Ministry didn’t respond to e-mails and phone calls from Bloomberg News seeking comment on contraceptive shortages.

“I ran out yesterday. Now, there’s next to nothing, and what you find is really expensive,” said Montilla, the advertising company art director. “You can’t take any risks.”

To get contraceptives in the capital, residents can still go to one of three family-planning centers run by IPPF subsidiary PlaFam, where in late January condoms were sold freely for 3 bolivars a piece.

“This is all there is,” said pharmacist Carlos Hernandez as he handed out the last two condoms available in the dispensary of the University Hospital of Caracas on Jan. 29. “Who knows when we will get more.”

Welcome to the Condom Collective!

Welcome to the Condom Collective! You might be asking yourself “what is this blog all about?” and “who cares about condoms?” Why should you read it? Below is an explanation and why you might want to subscribe, follow along, and learn a thing or two about rubbers.

I started this blog as part of a two year journey to better understand EVERYTHING about condoms. I am on a journey to gather intelligence on how condoms are made, what innovations are coming about in condom technology, how consumers feel about and engage with condoms, how condoms are distributed and sold, and to better understand the reproductive health landscape in which condoms play a crucial role.

Of course, there is a reason behind all of this. I work for PSI, one of the leading distributors of condoms in the world, and I am on a mission: to unify our condom business in East Africa (and ultimately beyond) so that we maintain our positive health impact in the region but can streamline our business portfolio to offer better value, become more relevant, and ensure we maximize our ROI as we try to ensure equitable access to every person in East Africa who needs a condom.

So, again, why might you want to read this blog? Well, for the following reasons:

  • If you want to learn about the condom market or more generally, what drives condom sales around the world
  • If you are curious about the role of condoms in the sexual and reproductive health landscape
  • If you think “hey, condoms should be distributed for free to all” but also wonder about the sustainability of such a proposition
  • If you are curious to learn about how condoms can be equitably accessed: that is, how a large social marketing agency plans to ensure everyone has access to a condom and sources them from the appropriate sector (depending on their SES quintile and willingness to pay)
  • If you want to see best in class condom marketing from around the world and be inspired!
  • If you want to hear from real people in East Africa engaged with condoms, and hear what they have to say about their preferences for brands, socially marketed condoms, the impact that PSI is having, etc.

This “condom collective” will be an amalgamation of gathered market intel, consumer and trade insights, inspirational stories and interviews, and ultimately an engine of ideation around condoms. I will be spending time in approximately 10 countries to gather content for this blog and will be asking for contributions from our team to keep the content rich and the dialogue exciting.

Stay tuned for more to come…I will soon be travelling to visit our team in Kampala to conduct a market landscape assessment and learn everything there is to learn about condoms in that market.

from where the rubber hits the road,

Montague