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What it takes to be the largest condom brand in sex-shy India

REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Getting bigger.
  • Niharika Sharma
By Niharika Sharma

Reporter based in New Delhi.

Published Last updated

An Indian condom maker has managed to win in the sex-shy country by taking the conversation around contraception beyond birth control, and underscoring how it can enhance pleasure.

Delhi-based Manforce, an arm of pharmaceuticals major Mankind Pharma, has become the country’s most-selling condom brand by using a unique marketing approach. “The existing brands and several government campaigns have already established the fact that using a contraceptive will ensure safe sex but what beyond that? That’s where we advertised and made our consumers aware of how using a condom could enhance pleasure,” Rajeev Juneja, managing director and vice-chairman of Mankind Pharma, told Quartz.

Manforce holds over 32% share of the Indian market, according to US-based data firm Nielsen. The brand is ahead of rivals Durex and Kamasutra by a mile.

But the company did not find success easily.

Launched in 2007, Manforce struggled for success initially. “There were many occasions when we lost hope of achieving the goals we were dreaming about,” Juneja said.

The story of Manforce Condoms

When Mankind Pharma decided it wanted to venture into condom manufacturing, the company first launched an experiment to test waters.

Mankind Pharma
Rajeev Juneja, managing director and vice-chairman of Mankind Pharma.

The pharma company already sold erectile dysfunction medications. So, it started giving out free samples of Manforce condoms with its viagra tablets.

Initially, even free samples were not easy to distribute because “it took a lot of convincing to educate the local chemist shops given the lack awareness around contraceptives,” Juneja said.

However, the free campaign gained some traction gradually, encouraging the company to launch the product commercially. But once the product hit the stands, it did not take off despite aggressive advertising.

“People are shy of buying condoms and used to come up with all sorts of excuses from blaming the suggestive packaging to fear of contracting sexually transmitted disease,” Juneja said. “Condom leakage was also one of the most popular fears. And people were also worried that it will lower the sexual pleasure.”

The company decided it needed to tackle this hesitation by creating a more personal connection with its potential customers. While the brand grabbed headlines for its quirky campaigns on issues in the news, in 2015 the company also started investing in regional advertising in local languages.

This strategy worked and the condom brand started gaining popularity but with a side of a controversy.

In a country like India, the demography changes every 100 miles,” Juneja said. “Delhi and Mumbai are the cities where you could expect generic Hindi-based advertising to work, but in states like Gujarat, West Bengal, and Odisha, we recorded higher sales as soon as we switched the marketing campaign.”

The brand’s business has been growing steadily since then, however, the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown up some unique challenges for the entire condom industry in India.

The impact of Covid-19 on condom sales in India

The Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 hurt Manforce’s sales in a manner the company had not anticipated, according to Juneja.

The trend was not limited to the brand as the overall market saw lower sales.

Juneja believes the slump in sales is because Indians are hesitant to buy condoms from pharmacies around their homes, and lockdowns restricted their movement beyond their neighbourhoods. Before the lockdowns, most people bought condoms from stores that were away from their homes or around their offices, Juneja said.

In India, chemist shops are the largest trade channels for procuring condoms. Neighbourhood pharmacies make for around 78% of the total condom sales in India, as per a recent report from Condom Alliance, a collective of Indian condom makers to promote sexual wellbeing.

To overcome this challenge, Manforce is ramping up its digital presence. “We were not really active on online sales channels until recently. We started to get serious about sales from online channels after the first Covid wave in 2020,” Juneja said. “The total loss (of lockdowns) hasn’t been filled yet but we are steadily getting to the pre-Covid numbers.”

The recovery in sales has given Manforce the confidence to launch new products. The company is trying to address the stigma around female sexuality and is all set to launch a female condom.

Innovative condom flavours guarantee a strong future

Juneja believes that the company’s ability to innovate with the design and flavours of condoms guarantees its success and continued market leadership in the future. At present, Manforce offers 16 variants of condoms that it says elevate “pleasure with protection.”

“We offer everything from paan to hazelnut to strawberry flavoured condoms. The popular ones in terms of maximum sales are the chocolate, litchi, and strawberry ones, ” he said.

In conclusion, Juneja said, his company has cracked the code to stay on top.

“The ultimate goal for sexual pleasure is to have an orgasm, especially for the youth. And we have experimented with a condom design so that our customers can attain that,” he added. “From ultra-thin to dotted condoms, we are trying to provide whatever we could.”

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