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India’s unsexy state-made condoms are being sexed up without eroticism

By Manu Balachandran

The Indian government has finally decided to give its widely distributed condom brand a makeover.

Nirodh condoms will soon come inside wrappers that carry pictures of attractive men and women. The word nirodh means protection in Hindi.

This will be the first major redesign for the 50-year-old brand. Right now, these condoms are sold in text-heavy, white packets. Its customers are usually India’s poor who either get them at subsidised rates or for free as part of the AIDS control programme.

Nirodh was first introduced in 1968, as part of the family planning programme. India had imported as many as 400 million packets from the US, Korea and Japan then.

After it found takers that year, the government decided to manufacture them in India and set up Hindustan Latex Limited in the southern state of Kerala in 1969 to manufacture Nirodh condoms.

The image makeover

But between 1968 and 2015, much has changed in India. Urban young Indians now are well-travelled and have much more disposable income than their parents did. Many private condom companies are aggressively marketing their condoms to these Indians. Their packets have bold colours or images of gorgeous, scantily-clad models.

Nirodh has suffered as a result. Even the poor in India are not attracted to the brand anymore.

“The government-made condom looks sick,” Vinod Poddar, a taxi driver in New Delhi, told Reuters. ”We need looks and quality, and it lacks both.”

Nirodh now wants to stage a comeback. According to reports, India’s health ministry has set up a three-member committee to suggest measures on making the condom more attractive. ”The packaging will have attractive images of couples, but they will not be erotic,” an unnamed health ministry official told Reuters.

Apart from redesigning the condoms, Nirodh will also sell sexual wellness products such as lubricants and lip-shaped vibrating rings.

Marketing wars

Even with the belated makeover, Nirodh has a lot of catching up to do on marketing. The private players upped their game a while ago.

For instance, Durex, the global condom brand owned by Reckitt Benckiser, roped in popular Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh as their ambassador in April last year. This is the first time a Bollywood celebrity has endorsed a condom brand.

Skore, owned by Chennai-based TTK Protective Devices, recently started shipping their condoms in a packaging that looks like a book. Indians are known to be awkward and secretive about their sex lives and Skore has tried to hit the nail on its head.

Looks like Nirodh might have to come up with more than just an attractive wrapper to turn on Indians.