Day 26: Marketing fail: Selling condoms in the congo

Amy Lockwood, a self confirmed “Reformed marketer” is the deputy director of Stanfords’s Centre for Innovation in Global Health. In 2011 she gave a talk at TedGlobal about the marketing lessons, or rather marketing fail, that donor agencies were using in getting the people of Congo to use condoms.

Marketing a solution to a health crisis

Amy uses her Ted talk to tell us a story about her visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s a pretty dangerous place to live. Amy says that five million people have died due to the war in the past ten years. War isn’t the only danger in the DRC. 930,000 out of the 750 million people living in the Congo are infected with HIV. The country’s inadequate health system infrastructure means that only 25% of people living with HIV are being treated with medication.

Know your audience

With such alarming figures, you can see why donor agencies provide condoms at low, or no cost. Trouble is, only 3% of the adult population actually use condoms. It’s not because there is such a high demand for the product that it is difficult to buy any, no rather it is because there is simply no demand for condoms itself. Why? Amy says it comes down to the donor agencies not actually understanding who their audience is.

Amy spoke to a couple who run a pharmacy that sells condoms and was told that despite the fact the donor agencies sold branded condoms low or no cost, customers still opted for a generic version. I’m guessing that these might be higher priced as well. The reformed marketer in Amy wanted to know why people turned out at often free condoms, it turns out the branding was all wrong.

The donor agencies branded the packaging with the 3 F’s fear, financing and fidelity. What’s wrong with this approach? Well the donor agencies are marketing the condoms to the people who provide financial support to the agency, not the people actually buying the product.  The marketing was aligned with what the supporters wanted to see.  The message is not in touch with the people that they are ultimately targeting the product to. Amy says “What is it that you think about just before you get a condom? Sex!” The 3 F’s are actually barriers to the product being purchased of being given away at no cost.



What I learned from watching Amy Lockwood’s ted Talk “Selling condoms in the Congo”

The marketing principle that Amy was talking about can be applied to any product or service, not just selling condoms in the Congo. When marketing you have to listen to your audience and create a message that they want to hear.  This is a theme that I keep hearing over and over again. A few days ago I published a post how Greenpeace listened to their audience and named their mascot Mister Splashy Pants and I wrote about how Twitter adapted their platform to function in a way that their users wanted.  I am getting the message loud and clear – listen to your audience!

That wraps up this series (for now)  for Ted Talks on Marketing. Have you been following along? What has been your favourite marketing tip? What series do you want me to cover next? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Vanessa Rose