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What’s wrong with condom campaign?

Why government officials say you, probably, shouldn’t give your girl a Kiss

Kampala, Uganda | FLAVIA NASSAKA | Do you prefer your man sweet like chocolate, fresh like strawberry or classic like ……… You decide!

That is according to a new series of adverts which, on TV and billboards, features an energetic looking muscular man showing off different packages of a new condom brand on the market called KISS. The adverts end with one message: “Be a man, Give your girl a KISS.”

The ad campaign, which hit the market in recent months in English and vernacular, is by the world renowned family planning and HIV social marketing group DKT International of the USA with operations in 24 countries.

DKT’s Managing Director for East Africa, Collin Dick, says the man in the advert is the Kiss condom brand ambassador named Joe Chuuma. Dick describes him as an ‘everyman’– one that all men wish they could be, and whom all women want to be with.  Dick says he is great looking, funny, and confident, and uses condoms to enjoy sex.

At the launch of the condoms brand in November 2017, Dick said: “We want to deliver a message and a brand that is not solely hammering a safety, quality, or protection message, but more about enjoying one’s sex life with condoms”.

He described DKT’s condom marketing as fun and interesting and designed to make one; especially a young person, want to buy the condoms.

“If we can somehow make condoms cool for young people to use then we might be able to contribute to the fight against new infections,” he added.

Radio, TV, and billboard adverts soon hit the airwaves and street.

Not going down well

But Dick and DKT’s message is not going down well with some officials at the Uganda AIDS Commission (UAC), the government agency responsible for ensuring a harmonized response to HIV/AIDS in the country through overall coordination, monitoring and evaluation of related activities; including condom promotion campaigns.

Its Acting Director General, Nelson Musoba, says UAC has launched an investigation into the contents of DKT’s condom advert campaign message.

“It’s clear that this message is not good,” he said, “You can’t go out telling everybody to have sex.

“Am told the man is naked,” he added.

While airing public health messages requires approval by either UAC or the Ministry of Health, Musoba says the KISS condom message was never submitted to the committee for scrutiny and approval.

Musoba’s UAC has instituted  a multi-organisational committee of seven headed by Noerine Kaleeba, the globally celebrated founder of The AIDS Support Organisation (TASO), which is supposed to analyze all public information on HIV AIDs control and prevention.

He said they specifically look at what the likely effect of the message is; whether it is age appropriate and culturally acceptable to ensure that people are being fed on appropriate messages. He says a simple message that is not well packaged can hugely impact on people’s behavior.

He says UAC is always on guard and ensure that messages go through an elaborate clearance process that includes categorization of specific target audiences, pretesting, tweaking for appropriateness based on feedback, and specific airing time.

He said UAC had received complaints from parents that when some young children see the DKT condom adverts, they say they want to eat strawberry. He said UAC has communicated its concerns to the Ministry of Health and the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) which regulates the broadcast sector. He said they want action to be taken. And that could, according to experts, include banning the condoms from the market. Unfortunately for Uganda’s Ministry of Health, such controversy appears to be exactly what DKT is courting.

Armstrong Mukundane of Communication for Healthy Communities; the makers of some of Uganda’s biggest public health campaigns – including  ‘Obulamu’, says DKT could have easily avoided  the looming threat and controversy. But, he says DKT could be deliberately engaging in an aggressive social marketing campaign – one that stretches the limits of what is acceptable and creates strong reactions for or against.

If DKT is, in fact, deliberately courting controversy with its condom adverts, Mukundane says that is a wrong strategy that should never be used for products that have a health or moral link.

It appears DKT does not think so.

In favour of shocking condom advertising

DKT, in fact, appears to favour aggressive, controversial, and shocking condom advertising that uses sensual, humorous, and macho themes to attract attention, build a brand quickly, and grow sales fast.

When The Independent spoke with DKT’s Uganda boss at the launch, Dick emphasized that they would be using “advertising that will set them apart from the onset”.

“We want to speak about contraceptives and family planning products in a very different way, one that resonates more with consumers; especially young people,” he said.

The DKT International President, Christopher Purdy, once wrote an article titled `To promote family planning, let’s have more controversy”. In it, he narrated how when he was working in Ethiopia in 1997, DKT International introduced a second brand of condom called `Sensation’ with blue package featuring a Caucasian couple embracing on a beach in their swimwear.  It became controversial and the Ministry of Health banned it.

In another incident, DKT International once launched an advertisement in the Philippines for strawberry-scented Trust condoms. The Archbishop of the Catholic Church there, Cardinal Sin, quickly condemned the ad as an illicit promotion of sex.

Then in July of 2013, a DKT condom advert in Pakistan was pulled off air by the regulatory authorities who deemed the ad indecent.

He concludes that “while some public health advocates might suggest that a more nuanced approach to condom promotion would have been better, I disagree”.

“Why? In all three instances, some very positive public health outcomes emerged — especially for consumers,” he says.

In the Philippines, the controversy resulted in record sales of strawberry condoms.

“Because of the brouhaha, consumers wanted to see what the fuss was about.” He says and adds that Trust condoms are now the most popular brand in the country.

In Ethiopia, after two years, the Sensation condoms and even a third brand were relaunched and it now sells 30 million pieces a year.

In Pakistan, the controversial ad ban catalysed widespread discussion.

Purdy concludes that, in his view, controversies such as the one on the Kiss condoms in Uganda are partly because of cultural taboos and universal nervousness about sex.

When speaking to a group of health journalists attending a medical male circumcision workshop in Nairobi, Dr. Freddie Ssengooba, a Professor at the Makerere University School of Public Health said condom use is a very sensitive topic in Uganda and its handling needs to be done with similar sensitivity.

Ssengooba was part of the strategists involved in introducing condoms to Uganda and he recalls the moralist and religious arguments they had to deal with.

Both he and Mukundane seem to hold the same view that DKT should exercise more caution than aggression on the message.

“You have to take caution because you are unsure of the effect it might have. You have to ask yourself that with this messages won’t moralists cause a hullabaloo,” Mukundane says.

Mukundane is more practical on the condom use message.

He says DKT, like any other communication campaign designer, needed to do informative research to understand the different perspectives which help in generating messages that tackle the key issues of the campaign, consulted widely, pre-tested the message to gauge its acceptability, and submitted dummies for approval by either the Ministry of Health or any other responsible authority.

He told The Independent: “Mine would have been, ‘the best way is to abstain but in case you can’t then use condoms’, then I can put whichever brand that I am marketing”.

That, it appears, is exactly what DKT would never do with its Kiss condom adverts.

They appear determined that the uproar over similar adverts in the neighboring Kenya should happen in Uganda. In Kenya, the government has reacted by ordering media houses to stop running the advert during prime hours of 5am to 10pm and to pull down billboards of the half-naked Joe Chuuma with his products. The controversy is unlikely to die out because the Ministry of Health is pursuing very different goals from those of the Kiss condom makers; the Ministry wants a change in attitude away from increased sexual activity; especially with multiple partners, but the condom makers want people to have more sex and, therefore, buy more condoms.

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