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?
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!).
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 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.