In Brazil, Condoms Become Popular By Emphasizing Fun, Not Responsibility

Contraceptive Security

David Olson

Olson Global Communications | Principal
DKT Brazil Carnaval Prudence promotion

DKT Brazil promotes its Prudence condoms during Carnaval in São Paulo the first week of March. This approach is typical of DKT Brazil's successful technique of promoting condoms for fun, and not for protection and responsibility. Photo: DKT Brazil

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — In 1991, a non-profit social marketing organization set out to make condoms accessible and affordable in Brazil at a time when they were expensive and hard to find, and the number of Brazilians with HIV was climbing. In the process, DKT Brazil made its brand Prudence the number-one condom in the very competitive Brazilian market, and also helped enhance contraceptive security.

The result is that condoms have become normalized in Brazil—more used and less stigmatized—which has helped limit the spread of HIV.

In 1990, the World Bank estimated that Brazil would have 1.2 million people living with HIV by 2000. However, that never happened: By 2000, there were fewer than 500,000 infections. After peaking in 1996, according to UNAIDS, AIDS-related deaths have remained fairly stable. Brazil is now considered an HIV success story. Condoms—distributed through by the public and private sectors— played an important role in that success.

Prudence has become the most popular condom in Brazil by taking a very different approach to positioning and marketing. While most commercial condom distributors marketed their products for responsibility and protection, DKT eroticized its condom messaging, celebrated sexuality and used humorous vernacular, with no medical jargon. Its advertising was daring and provocative: The Prudence YouTube channel demonstrates that.

“Sexy advertising is a part of our success, but we’re not sexy for the sake of being sexy,” said Dan Marun, the managing director of DKT Brazil. “It has to have a proposition behind it. When we have just a girl or just a guy, the campaign is OK but it’s a hard sell. Our most appreciated campaigns feature couples.”

DKT Brazil Prudence promotion

“Sexy advertising is a part of our success, but we’re not sexy for the sake of being sexy.” — Dan Marun, managing director of DKT Brazil. Photo: DKT Brazil

Marun said the main secret of DKT Brazil’s success is consistency: in marketing, messaging, imagery, product development, and target groups.

“We look at the 4 Ps of marketing [product, price, promotion, and place], and always try to pay attention to the basics—having a well-developed message targeted to the right people,” he said. “We always look at the market and know where we want our products positioned. We take care of our distribution channels. We want our retailers to sell our products. It’s not just about pushing products on them.”

When DKT broke into the Brazilian market in 1991, condom sales were anemic. More importantly, the few commercial brands available were largely unaffordable and inaccessible to the poor. At the time, two Brazilian manufacturers dominated the market, and their locally manufactured condoms typically sold at retail for 60¢ to more than $1 in local currency. That was much too high for many low-income Brazilians.

So DKT Brazil set out to bring condoms to market at much lower prices. The Brazilian government was starting to liberalize its economic and trade policies, and DKT Brazil took advantage of that liberalization to buy good-quality Asian condoms and sell them to consumers for about 15¢, which meant a high-quality affordable condom for a quarter of the price that commercial companies were charging.

 DKT Brazil Prudence public promotion

DKT Brazil set out to bring condoms to market at much lower prices. Photo: DKT Brazil

DKT Brazil launched Prudence condoms in 1991. Sales took off and reached 121 million in 2018. The commercial condom market in Brazil also began to grow rapidly. Other companies imported condoms and competition heated up. Commercial sales, including DKT Brazil, grew from 82 million condoms in 1991 to 443 million in 2018. Government distribution of free condoms has also increased greatly.

Prudence’s share of the commercial market grew from a very small fraction in 1991 to become the best-selling condom brand in Brazil, with a market share of 27.4% in 2018.

It used to be that condoms were found mainly in pharmacies and drug stores. DKT still sells them there, but also in a variety of non-traditional outlets such as grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, gas stations, bars, and nightclubs. This makes them more available where and when people need them, contributing to contraceptive security.

An important way to achieve profitability without sacrificing affordability is to practice cross-subsidization, which involves having different brands at different price points reach different income segments (this is also done for other contraceptives, like oral contraceptives and injectables). For DKT Brazil, this meant offering more condom variants, all of which turn a profit.

DKT now offers an amazingly varied portfolio of condoms, including condoms with colors, aromas, and tastes (strawberry, chocolate, mint, coffee, grape, tutti-frutti, melon, watermelon, sparkling wine, and caipirinha); condoms lubricated with mild anesthetic to delay ejaculation; extra-large, anatomically shaped condoms; condoms lubricated to create a cool or warm sensation, and condoms that glow in the dark. Its competitors never introduced such a variety.

Even though all of the Prudence condom brands make money, some of them are still within the contraceptive affordability index, which dictates that the cost of a year’s supply of condoms should not exceed 0.25% of the Gross Domestic Product per capita. All of the basic Prudence condom brands (i.e., not the premium brands) are well within this index.

In the last 28 years, DKT Brazil’s social marketing has made significant progress in contributing to Brazil’s contraceptive security.

The total condom market (free government condoms, the commercial sector, and social marketing) has increased from 92 million in 1991, when Prudence was launched, to 806 million in 2018. All three sectors have improved their condom distribution dramatically, so condoms are more available to people at all income levels.

Brazil CPR

Contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR) in Brazil.

Brazil’s Ministry of Health reports that 96% of Brazilians identify condoms as a barrier that can prevent the spread of HIV and sexually-transmitted infections, according to this Avert fact sheet on HIV and AIDS in Brazil. However, condom use varies widely, with only 25% of the population reporting condom use in all sexual relations and 63% reporting use during sex with a casual partner. Reported data on condom use in key populations is higher than that observed in the general population.

And Brazil has one of the highest contraceptive prevalence rates in the world—80% for all methods and 77% for modern methods, according to DKT. Almost 16% of the 77% comes from condoms.

DKT Brazil has become self-sustaining. Since 2004, DKT Brazil has been repatriating a portion of its revenues back to DKT headquarters in Washington. Some of these funds have been used to start new DKT programs in Mozambique, Nigeria, and Kenya. DKT Brazil has transitioned from a charity to a social enterprise that fulfills its social mission but makes most of its decisions on the basis of profits.

In 2016, DKT Brazil started expanding into other contraceptive products in Brazil and into other South American countries with IUDs, condoms, and lubricants. Now, DKT Brazil sells products in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. This expansion will improve contraceptive security throughout the region by offering IUDs and hormonal contraceptives.

Despite the fact that DKT Brazil has transitioned into a successful social enterprise, Marun believes it is still reaching the poor: “We do serve the poor because our brand is the one you find in the most remote areas of the country. Our distribution in those areas is huge. We track the affordability of all our products to make sure we always have some products under 0.25% of per capita GDP.”

In 2018, DKT Brazil launched a new condom called Sutra specifically for the Northeast, one of the poorest regions on the country. Marun says it is the most affordable condom in Brazil.