Durex is partnering with Beijing-based incubator TechHive this Friday to launch one of the most left field startup challenges we’ve come across in China so far; sexual wellbeing. The challenge is an open invite to any startup that fits the theme, and will be held over an intensive 54 hour weekend.

The incubator is the latest in a diverse series of brand outreach activities by UK-based Durex. In the past year parent company Reckitt Benckiser Group (RBG) has worked with content partners in China to produce over 3000 pieces of individual content, but according to their Beijing office virtually none of that is direct advertising.

So what do Weibo-supported, love toy hitchhikers, personalized condom boxes and sex-themed startups have in common? They are all part of Durex’s embrace of the digital community in a bid to share their brand with a country that prohibits ‘obscene’ advertising.

“For Durex, this is the one market where we can’t really advertise,”  Aditya Sehgal, Regional Director for North Asia at Reckitt Benckiser, told Technode. “Our hands are tied, we are constrained in ways that we are not constrained in other markets. We’ve had to be creative.”

China is the fastest growing consumer of Durex products, and their biggest online market. While the company’s online global sales are currently just upward of 20%, Aditya believes the future of Durex in China is more than 50% online.

Durex allows Chinese customers to personalize their own condom packaging before shipping. Source: Durex, Weibo
Durex allows Chinese customers to personalize their own condom packaging before shipping. Source: Durex, Weibo

Low Market Adoption of Condoms

Despite being the company’s biggest market, the current penetration rate of their condom products in China [pun intended] is one of the lowest of all Durex markets.

China is the world leader in modern birth control methods, due in part to their one child policy, however condoms still only have approximately a 10% adoption rate countrywide.

Giving Away The Durex Brand

According to Durex the untapped market has made China the perfect place for innovation, especially digital.

“China is really one of our pioneering markets,” says Aditya, “That’s because China is very much an outlier market in terms of innovation in e-commerce, digital and social. In my view, even ahead of the US.”

“I don’t think we are as focussed on the product benefits in China as in other places. We are more focussed on the broad idea of the brand.” According to Aditya, Durex China acts more like a curator of their brand’s image, rather than the owner.

The company first launched sex toys online in China, making it the worldwide debut marketplace for Durex toys. By way of promotion, the company gave a winning couple a bag of sex toys in liu of money and had them hitchhike from Beijing to Shanghai then Shangrila bartering toys to make their way. The couple were permitted to receive help from their official Weibo following, according to the company the promotion made over 1 billion impressions.

During the November 2014 China-wide ‘Singles Day’ sales event, the company was the biggest selling sex toy brand in the country, with China-exclusive products ranging from 99RMB($) to 2000RMB(USD).

Legal Grey Area

While constraints on advertising have eased recently, the law is murky in terms of how products in Durex’s category can be advertised.

“For example, there is a law that says that we can advertise to people the dangers of HIV. But there’s another law that says you should not advertise anything that has the potential to be seen as obscene.” says Aditya. “Now depending on who looks at it, you can choose to pick one law or the other law.”

“The good news is we don’t really need the TV advertising in China anymore, because we [marketers] have really gone beyond that. So considering that, and the fact that we were so constrained, has actually helped us to open up other routes.”

According to Durex, their latest brand collaboration with TechHive will focus widely on promoting sexual wellbeing and improving the sex lives of Chinese people. Durex China and Techhive say their event will be open to a wide range of applicants, including those relating to sex from a social, education and health perspective.

 Image Source: Shutterstock

Cate is a tech writer. She worked as a journalist in Australia, Mongolia and Myanmar. You can reach her (in Chinese or English) at: @catecadell or catecadell@technode.com

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