When I say ‘feel good’ condoms, I am not talking about the sensation down in the nether regions. No, I am talking about a trend that is more focused on the hearts and minds of end users and less on their genitalia. I am talking about the emerging companies that are trying to introduce eco-friendly, fair trade, globally conscious condoms.
Obviously targeting only the most affluent segment of earth, these condoms are high priced and high minded. But they seek to fit a niche of the overall category and the way they do business will likely have implications for the global condom business. If nothing else, its interesting to see how they are approaching their business and take a few lessons from what they are doing. So in a brief snapshot, let me give you the trends that are happening out there in the world of ‘feel good’ condoms:
I Buy, Therefore I Am:
Thorstein Veblen would be proud of all the conspicuous consumption happening these days, particularly if he were an environmentalist! So who is buying these fancy condoms and championing their cause? The rise of the “socially conscious consumer” segment, often referred to as the LOHAS (Lifestyles Of Health And Sustainability) segment, in developed nations is staggering.
The LOHAS segment now represents 23% of the population (about 50 million adults) in the United States, and 29% of the population in Japan (about 37 million). What is astounding is the speed with which the group appeared, moving from less than 4 percent of the U.S. population in the 1960s to more than 23% percent in the 1990s, a new record for such a population trend. And what many new companies understand is that this group has different drivers in their path to purchase, namely that if a product is either environmentally or socially friendly in its production, they will more than likely try it and, if they love it, wear it on their shirt sleeves.
If You Build It, They Will Come (and Probably Invest):
Instead of simply launching a new product in the conventional sense, many LOHAS-focused brands recognize the passion with which their target consumers purchase and have leveraged crowd-sourcing/crowd funding to drive their businesses forward, ensuring true consumer engagement and brand loyalty (there is no better way to ensure loyalty amongst your target audience than getting them to invest in your brand financially!).
Why is crowd-sourcing so popular? Jeff Howe, the person who first brought it to common knowledge in Wired Magazine around 10 years ago, cites four main reasons for the rise of crowd-sourcing that can influence how we all think about our brands:
- First, the renaissance of amateurs as a counterweight to the increasingly global division of labor and the decoupling of production with the established individual hobby movements and a high desire for creativity and participation.
- Second, the Open Source Revolution: The Wikipedia example shows that the ability to participate in some aspect of something big can be enough motivation.
- Third, the democratization of the means of production. Those who used AutoCad 3D Labs for technical drawings, which cost $200,000, can now make almost the same thing for free using Google SketchUp.
- Fourth, the rise of communities: in the past, people were physically clustered into neighborhoods while today you are able to group interests digitally.
Every recent LOHAS-targeted condom launched in the past has leveraged crowd funding (and it’s not only happening in condoms, its happening with millions of small start ups). From Einhorn Condoms (sustainable, fair trade, open source, and delivery service) to L Condoms (socially friendly – Tom’s Shoes/Warby Parker model – one hour delivery service, when the need arises), Sustain Condoms (fair trade, sustainable, and empowering to women), and Love Letter Condoms (EU certified fair trade or “fair play” and sustainable). Not to mention the countless complimentary brands marketing eco-friendly sexual enhancers, lingerie, toys, etc.
I am Woman, Hear Me Roar!:
Many of the LOHAS-targeted condom brands are placing women front and center in their business plan. Whether they are targeting women specifically (Sustain and French Letter Condoms) or targeting men who are concerned about satisfying their female partners (L Condoms), condom brands are wising up to something the cosmetics brands discovered a while ago: LOHAS-female consumers are cognizant of what they put on, or inside, their body and want to know that its 1) safe and 2) not coming at the cost of someone else’s well being.
The co-founders of Sustain (a daughter and father team, he was the founder of Seventh Generation) aim to appeal to sophisticated young women to help change attitudes about women proactively carrying condoms and feeling empowered to behave intelligently when it comes to protection. They have found that a rather high figure of condom purchasers in the United States are women (around 40%), despite the predominance of male-targeted campaigns from the likes of Trojan and Durex, and that only 19% of sexually active single women aged 22-44 use condoms regularly.
Their website (check it out here) is very clean, modern, and tailored nicely for their target audience. The packaging is heavily focused on sustainability, with everything from the gift bags to the condoms themselves being made from fair-trade and renewable resources. And the products will also be available at some more fashion-centric retail outlets like American Apparel (although not the brand I would call the epitome of female empowerment!) and Urban Outfitters.
Check out a recent video interview here they conducted with Business Insider for a brief snapshot of the condom development process, some interesting statistics about condoms worldwide, and a brief intro into how they see their contribution in the fight for a world of safe sex.
And while L Condoms seems to be targeting men directly, it recognizes the driver behind a lot of LOHAS-male consumers purchasing patterns: an earnest female partner who has certain expectations of him. Check out their hilarious and provocative commercial (very reminiscent of Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign):
So the take aways here are as follows: conspicuous consumption is not going anywhere and more and more people are identifying with brands that champion their beliefs (the list is endless, think about beers and football clubs if you are struggling to connect this logic to a developing context); true consumer engagement is a key driver of success (and something we can all apply to our business models, irrespective of who our audience is); remember the driving influence behind your target audience’s behavior (behind every man is a powerful woman, no matter what country we are talking about).