Female Condom from HLL Lifecare – Case Studies on Marketing Management

6

Female Condom from HLL Lifecare*

A Night for the ‘Fairer Sex’

Steaming. Tempting. Soft.

Simple. But convoluted.

All about kids. Yet complicated.

The hot bowl staring at Aditya sent him to a psychedelic state. Maggi! He thought with a fondness only people on his side of the world could understand. The two-minute thingamajig was more than a 10-course meal for him.

Aditya kept chewing the cud deeper. ‘It’s so much like a marketing puzzle. Intricately woven even though it appears deceptively simple. You need more than a sturdy fork to savour this culinary feat. You need poise, strategy and deft handling lest the parts get tangled further, and of course, furious speed before others get to attack your kosher.’

Just like Randeep who had almost robbed Aditya of his meal, had Aditya not been fast enough to save it in time.

‘Don’t you dare, R! Ask Bholabhai for another one. This one is mine,’ Aditya grumbled.

‘Oh; Grrr! All possessive and stuff Adi, I am so scared. Please don’t lash me. Spare me the torture.’ Randeep mocked.

‘Yeah, whatever. The torture is anyways scheduled for tomorrow when Partha Sir will spank us with his assessment credits and cruel assignments. Our group is always the bottom of the pyramid—a pyramid where all mummies snore blissfully. Where is everyone? Don’t they realize it is already 12:30 a.m.? We have only seven hours, R! It’s literally a do-or-die situation if we cannot come up with a kickass presentation. We will get a kick on our asses for sure, mark my word.’

Chillax, yaar! They did a last minute detour to fill fuel. The hostel coffee machine conked off again today. I could do with Bholabhai’s masala chai though.’ He ordered two cups of coffee and came back with a tray to feast an army. For R, appetite was all about what was available. And if there were hot grilled paneer sandwiches being made, it was an obligation for him to surrender and eat first. Except, of course, when he was not eating Aditya’s head!

Actually, except of course, when Riya was not there and Aditya’s brains were the backup menu.

‘So, what is the big deal anyway?’ mumbled Randeep incoherently as he gobbled a big bite.

Aditya gave him a cold stare.

‘No. I know about the assignment, man. But it’s the same chai in a new thermos, right? What’s different about this project than the million others we keep grinding our heads in everyday? Where do these professors get so many assignments, by the way? Baffles me! Do they have a special clandestine factory somewhere, on the moon or something?’ R blabbered on.

A sharp spank on his back by Riya did the needful.

‘Will you ever learn to shut your drivel up, R?’ Riya hollered. ‘First, you give us the SOS call for an ungodly hour meeting and then you ensconce yourself with all this food while we toil around for books, references and power chords. Slaves, are we?’

Riya was known for her hotheadedness, but this evening she sounded more than usually irate as Aditya observed for the next five minutes while R got a big piece of her mind.

‘What, you don’t even know what we are working on!’ Riya was disgusted with R’s inarticulate mumbo-jumbo by now.

‘Exactly my point. Thanks for underlining that, Riya.’ Aditya spoke now, addressing the group that had by now coalesced around R and Riya listening curiously.

Kryptonite, as the group members labelled themselves, was one of the marketing teams of Indian Institute of Neo-management’s (IIN) 15th batch. While other houses had kept other names such as Lateral Line or Transformers or Seven Dwarfs, Kryptonite prided itself as a bunch of dynamites that could explode any impenetrable management rock and unravel any marketing Web.

Apart from Aditya, Randeep and Riya, other dynamos in this group were Ayesha and Rizwaan.

Rizwaan, the one with the toughest hide—be it Aditya’s repartees, Riya’s expletives, or Prof. Partha’s piercing eyes—grabbed a chair in his usual stoic manner and asked nonchalantly, ‘Great! That means the canvas is still open. Hope prevails, my friends. It is still pregnant with possibilities’.

‘Do not utter that word’, scowled Riya.

‘What happened? Are you right?’ asked Ayesha.

Her calm and appeasing manner worked like a fire extinguisher.

Riya dropped listlessly on a chair and said, ‘No. Nothing is all right. How can it be? It’s a man’s world after all. But you know what; you men can have it for yourselves’.

‘Ouch! Who exploited who, Miss Feminist?’ Rizwaan probed.

‘Just hung up on a call with my elder sister. Siya is a moron for all her seniority, I tell you. She just found out that she has conceived again! The baby would be out and about in a few months now. And think of it, her first born barely seven months old. Does she have any brains or not?’

‘Oh God! You sound like the elder one here. I am sure you would have given the day-after-pill advice by now. Oh Didi, can I sip my chai now with your kind consent?’ Randeep chivvied.

‘It’s not funny R. I know she can make her own decisions. It’s just that she does not actually make them when the time calls for it. Now how would she pursue the Ph.D. I have been pushing her for? Or even take care of two kids when her own health has gone for a toss. All I can do is hazard a guess. Did they plan a child now? If not, who was neglecting the basic common sense of using protection? Or, like in most of the cases, the female just surrenders to the male’s authority or the male does not consider the option even when the female insists?’

Ayesha stood with her mouth agape and eyes transfixed for the want of a reaction.

‘Oh, stop it, Aish! Do not behave so prudish. You know what I am saying is more serious than what all these kinky ads and songs make out to be. Just imagine if this is the situation that a normal, well-educated housewife encounters, what would be the plight of those poor sex workers? Or any of the modern generation social butterflies who beat their chest talking about their rights to ‘open relationships’, then sleep around and don’t bat an eyelid about gross consequences like sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or HIV? Husbands or boyfriends, the story stays the same. And to think of it, we live in an era where condoms are more easily available on vending machines than coffee.’

‘She is right. That’s a problem always pushed under the carpet,’ Rizwaan pondered.

Aditya’s eyes beamed at the word. ‘Yes, that’s it. We have a problem. That’s our problem.’

The others gazed at him in utter confusion until he said the next words: ‘Condoms. That’s our project!’

Randeep shifted in his seat, then got up and smelled Aditya’s cup. ‘What have you been up to? Hallucinating on Bhola’s chai!’

‘Looks like. Partha Sir will render you useless for any condom if this is what you are planning to sing and dance about in his class,’ Rizwaan joined in.

‘Now who is being prude? We are marketing students. I am not talking about playing some erotica in the class. We are adults anyway. We will rejig the whole concept in a completely academic and analytical flavour. We will turn it upside down, pulling the skeletons out of the cupboard and giving them a good dusting. And I am telling you, our project would get instant eyeballs and eardrums. Who doesn’t want to hear about condoms?’ Aditya went on vehemently.

‘Partha Sir for one,’ said a still unconvinced Randeep. ‘And come on, why condoms? What new can we do in that category?’

‘A lot, R. With a lot of pun intended, if I may add—it’s quite a virgin space. I am talking about female condoms,’ Aditya said.

It took a few minutes before everyone realized that Aditya’s plan was worth a shot. ‘I am in,’ Rizwaan went first, followed by Ayesha and Randeep.

Riya joined the huddle too. This was going to be a fun night for them no matter how Partha would react the next day.

They divided the work among themselves after an initial chat. Rizwaan instantly took to his laptop fiddling with its keys like a pianist. Riya too grabbed her designer pencils and started sketching graphs on Bholabhai’s tissue papers. Ayesha sprinted off to what she did best—taking an impromptu poll on Facebook pages, and Randeep did the same with other students sitting around in the canteen that had more attendance than any lectures at IIN, thanks to all the midnight snacks and youthful chatter. They had decided to resume the discussion after one hour.

Aditya was sucked inside a whirlpool of reports for that one hour. Contrary to his hypothesis, female condom was not that dormant a territory. There was so much happening in that category, and so recently. But first, he was curious about the product per se. What was a female condom? How was it different or better than other options, especially a male condom?

That consumed all his time as page after page of research unravelled the mystery.

ALL ABOUT THE PRODUCT

A female condom is a 17 cm long rubber sheath that is equipped with flexible rings at both ends. Earlier, these condoms were made of polyurethane, but were later replaced by material nitrile, which is another form of rubber, and since it is cheaper, stronger, smoother, thinner and more reliable than a male condom that is made of latex rubber, it helps here. The special material brings a great deal of difference as it is thinner and stronger than the male condom, thus making it more reliable during usage. The product also has extra lubrication. The shelf life for a female condom is five years, while that of a male condom is only three. The female condom also costs more than the male one. As per media-reported figures for initial years, HLL’s Confidom was priced at ₹ 250 for two pieces (manufactured by HLL Lifecare [formerly Hindustan Latex], a Government of India enterprise.) It works in a different manner as a female condom is kept in place by the inner ring at the cervix and there is an outer ring at the opening of the vagina. It has been advised to use them appropriately in combination with a spermicide, however, not with a male condom.

The product details warrant a mention of Dr A. V. K. Reddy of Princeton, New Jersey, a surgeon whose techniques developed over 10 years made his mark for designing men’s and women’s condoms as pleasure enhancers, to ensure their consistent use.

‘Over the years, female condoms have scored many a point over their male counterparts. For example, they allow a woman to control the situation herself, they can be inserted much before intercourse and removed when convenient after the intercourse (Exhibit 6.1). The added advantage is that they can be safely used for both vaginal and rectal intercourse, and they do not require erect penis for its insertion as mentioned in many articles. The fact that they protect both the internal and external part of the vagina against infection and there is no danger of the condom slipping out during intercourse and semen spilling into the vagina allow another dimension and strength to this product. All this has been explored so far for this reasonably novel product category, as claimed in various reports and articles on this subject. Also, it is a product that caters to probably a quintessentially urban woman as she is better informed about sexual health issues and wants to take charge of her health. As far as a female condom’s size goes, some opine that it can be a tad intimidating, Aditya cautioned before finishing his prologue.

Everyone was listening in rapt attention just as Aditya had expected. But a smart question from Randeep took him by surprise.

‘If they are so good, what’s the pooper?’

‘Rivals as always, I guess,’ Rizwaan said, opening the discussion for everyone.

ALL ABOUT COMPETITION

‘Let me take this one,’ Riya urged.

‘If we talk about from where we speak, the big name here is Hindustan Latex Ltd (HLL)’s brand Velvet, which is targeted at contemporary Indian women and new-age couples, and pegged as a risk-free condom that ensures full protection during sexual intercourse. It is manufactured by Hindustan Latex Ltd and, if this sounds interesting, in the first year of launch, the company expected to sell 1.5 million packets of Velvet. Within the first six months of its launch, the brand roped in sales worth ₹ 2.2 million. In fact, HLL had a sales target of about ₹ 5 billion for the financial year 2008–09, of which about 8–10 per cent was expected to be contributed by the female condom segment. The dartboard for 2010 reads a turnover of ₹ 10 billion. Now as to other competitors there is HLL’s own Confidom, Germany’s brand V-Amour, L’amour, VA w.o.w female condom and Sutra.’

‘That’s it?’ Ayesha enquired.

‘May be not,’ Rizwaan interjected. ‘Why don’t we consider it from the sense of economics. Every substitute is a potent competition. The demand and price graphs always get a new haircut whenever a substitute grows strong. Remember tea versus coffee from Prof. Iyer’s class?’

‘You mean, err, male condoms?’ ventured Aditya.

‘Bingo! Won’t that be the rival for this category?’ Rizwaan said looking at Riya for details.

‘The condom market in general has players such as HLL, Mankind Pharma, JK Ansell (Kamasutra), V-Amour and TTK-LIG (Kohinoor, Durex). If we reckon the total potential, the male condom market in India has seen an upper mark of about 2 billion pieces annually. While even HLL had said that they expect private firms to get into the category and any amount of competition is always good for the consumer and the category. Whatever media bytes allow us to peek, show that this FMCG major was expecting the female condom category to attain at least 3 per cent of that, but there are challenging factors such as risk on return on investment involved or cost of manufacturing which is higher for a female condom vis-à-vis a male condom that have come in the picture too. But then Germany is the first country where V-Amour is available to any woman requesting for the condom at her pharmacy.

And here is an estimate by National Aids Control Organization’s (NACO) Condom Promotion Group, which surmised that annual consumption of condoms could jump to 3.5 billion by 2012. In fact, as per a news report, there was an endeavour to popularize the product, wherein the government placed an order for 5,00,000 condoms that will be distributed either free or at a subsidized price of ₹ 5 per piece to sex workers.’

Rizwaan completed the number plate. Here’s a quote by Narendra Malhotra, President, Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecological Society of India and Family Planning Association of India: ‘The unmet need of female condoms in India is huge and if marketed properly this may become the fastest and hottest selling method. The potential is huge.’

Ayesha asked another question here.

‘But if I think like a female consumer, I surely wouldn’t have waited for this invention for centuries so far. What was a female doing till now, if we skip the part about male condoms?’

Rizwaan juggled some keys and pulled out more rabbits from his hat. ‘There are so many methods, friends. Birth control space has a bigger menu than our pizza guy. There are chemical barriers such as spermicides, or hormonal intra-uterine devices (IUDs), or today’s rage (emergency contraceptive pills [ECPs]). The options for birth control have mushroomed. Their roles have changed along with the times, from birth control to protection from STDs.’

‘Sounds gibberish to me, to be frank. Why won’t a woman just pop some emergency pill instead of all the complicated alternatives?’ Ayesha questioned emphatically, thinking like an actual consumer.

‘Looks like doctors warn against excessive use of ECPs,’ Riya said, reading out some reports that she had just bumped into. ‘For one, if used repeatedly, their failure rate increases, as most obstetrics and gynaecologists will tell you.’

‘Why!’ Randeep asked curiously.

‘Well, don’t ask me. A report here says that before you choose your contraceptive, it is also important to talk to your doctor about your family history to know what suits you best. Do not take the pill if you have high blood pressure, deranged lipid profiles, have suffered from jaundice in the past or have a history of liver diseases or breast cancer (the last one is, however, debated by experts). Do not use IUDs if you are pregnant, are allergic to copper, have an abnormal uterus or a recent history of pelvic inflammatory disease or STDs. Do not use a spermicide if you suffer from vaginal irritation or yeast infections or have lacerations of any kind.’

‘And look here, there are even injectibles for birth control, some kind of an injection taken on the buttocks once in three months that releases hormones into a woman’s body and keeps her from conceiving. As it turns out, of all these, tubectomy or vasectomy is the safest option (vasectomy better). According to a survey by the National Family Health, of the 48 per cent of married couples using contraception in India, tubectomy accounts for 71 per cent. But the flip side is that it is mostly irreversible,’ Rizwaan added with a chuckle.

‘Aha! Now aren’t all these lines the very copy of a female condom’s storyboard?’ Aditya piped in.

‘How?’ said Randeep confused as his head was crammed with too much information without any food as sponge in the last few minutes.

‘Just say how other options won’t be a good idea because of all the reasons just mentioned. That makes a quick direct, open-and-shut case for female condoms,’ Aditya jubilantly explained.

‘Nice bells. But the good old question is that, Adi, who will bell the cat?’ Rizwaan smashed his quick fix.

ALL ABOUT SEGMENTATION AND POSITIONING

‘What’s wrong with the cat?’ Riya objected. ‘The urban woman today is informed about sexual health issues and wants to take charge of her health. She is, in fact, waking up to the fact that her sexual health is in her own hands. It would be positive and progressive to sell the very idea of women-initiated contraception. The dual protection against unwanted pregnancy and STDs, HIV/AIDS would be a happy by-product.’

‘There goes the women empowerment rhetoric again,’ Rizwaan sighed.

‘Why not?’ supported Aditya. ‘We are living in an era that has seen changing perception and needs of consumers, particularly women in the area of sexual preferences. The trend of women empowerment only increases, and an additional alternative for having safe sex is not a bad idea. A woman can be independent and decide on safety aspects during lovemaking.’

‘See here. A social acceptability study of female condoms in India conducted by Hindustan Latex Family Planning Promotion Trust along with Blackstone highlighted that the primary attribute of the female condom that the women in our country liked was that it could be used when the husband refused to use a male condom,’ said Randeep.

‘The product can act as a buttress for strengthening and re-enforcing this positioning peg. As I shared earlier in the part about “product”, it is made of a material called nitrile, which allows body heat transfer, making sex more pleasurable, at least as claimed. That makes it tougher and drastically reduces risk of breakage,’ Aditya concluded.

‘But are we not forgetting something large and focusing only on the tip of the iceberg? When the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) arrived in the market about 50 years ago, it empowered women and opened their minds so that they could finally think of independent birth control and career dreams. But did things change drastically?’ Rizwaan stirred up the pot further.

‘What do you mean?’ Riya asked.

‘I mean to clarify, with no offence to your didi whatsoever, that there are still many segments we have not targeted. Cut the cake into more slices. Think of the quintessential Indian woman who is not aware firstly, and secondly too shy to ask for a female condom. Thirdly, she does not know where and how to go about it. Think of segments like sex workers or rural women or women from the upper social strata.’

‘Is that why HLL has “Confidom” for the premium segment while “Velvet” is for the main segment?’ asked Aditya.

‘More importantly, think about the exact factors that Riya took umbrage to earlier. In India, male partners are often not interested in condom use as they think that it will lessen their pleasure. There is both a chance and a barrier to make female condoms popular in the country.’

‘Well, as I see it, a female condom can be sold as the only easily available method that women and girls can initiate, and in some ways control, that protects against both unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The economic, social and gender inequalities accentuate the fact that women are often ill-placed to make their partners use condoms, particularly within marriage. Now a woman can control the situation herself,’ Ayesha concluded. ‘But before she can control the situation, what about location? She won’t get it on vending machines, will she?’

ALL ABOUT PLACE

‘Why not? What’s wrong with the idea of a vending machine? If it can work for male condoms, why not for female ones?’ Randeep stressed. ‘Moreover, it would be quite something to see females tossing in a coin for popping out condoms. Why should only guys suffer the embarrassment? Gender equality, right Riya?’ He quipped.

‘Precisely. Embarrassment is a big word,’ Aditya picked out the operative word again.

‘But I guess it would be a great idea if your segment is modern-age people—BPO workers, for examples. Installing female condom vending machines at high-end hotels to dispense the condom can work well,’ said Ayesha.

‘“He” and “She” machines now, just imagine,’ Randeep smirked again.

‘Well, as to the shy ones, there’s always the online veil. E-commerce routes will fit in marvellously here. Like getcloser.in Web sites and other e-portals. Confidom is already available through e-commerce; V-Amour is also available online for privacy and convenience reasons at www.kondomberater.de,’ Rizwaan cleared the air.

‘So that is about buyers. Even influencers and catalyst points will have a huge role to play. Condoms can be distributed through leading modern trade outlets, departmental stores and medical stores by pharmacists on one hand. On the other hand, an expert gynaecologist can tailor-make contraception for couples depending on their health and lifestyle. For example, if you have migraine or some hormonal problem or are obese, you should avoid pills. A condom can be used instead,’ said Aditya.

‘In addition, there can be training sessions for the staff of select retail outlets where female condoms are sold. Or downstream extensions like HLL Lifecare’s chain of hospitals for this purpose called Life Spring Hospitals. The Female Health Company, United States, makes FC1 and FC2, the only female condoms encouraged by the World Health Organization as an additional tool for protecting sexual and reproductive health.’

‘Or, for that matter, The Global Female Condom Initiative run by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). In 2008 alone, it had operations in 23 countries, wherein for the third consecutive year, access to female condoms rose dramatically, clocking a distribution of over 33 million pieces to beneficiaries across the world. The United States Food and Drug Administration gave its nod for the marketing and distribution of this innovative piece of contraceptive in 1993, with significant backing from international health organizations. Local initiatives such as the one by the UNFPA are also spreading awareness among women,’ Riya added.

‘And with that we have come to the final piece of the jigsaw,’ she paused. ‘What to say?’

ALL ABOUT MESSAGE

‘That shouldn’t be a tough one. Almost every condom ad is a Siamese twin. What can be done though is adding a twist like V-Amour did—make safe-sex “sexier”; with soft and sexy as its handle, V-Amour played up an erotic experience,’ Aditya thought aloud.

‘Now that’s another debate altogether. Why for the love of Gods are condoms sold only like aphrodisiacs? I find that paradoxical. “Pleasure”, “Erotica” is the big circle everyone eventually runs into no matter how much out of the box they are. Can’t it be sold in a better way?’ asked Riya, taking a different view.

‘Boring is the other way, but not the better way. You mean all those Doordarshan ads for social welfare?’ Randeep said, getting up for ordering another round of tea and coffee.

By the time he returned, Riya had doodled something on the table. It was titled ‘The Cubic Theory’ and Rizwaan was just finishing his SCAMPER model.

‘So, as I said, Bob Eberle’s method can be used if needed. If the existing scenario is not working in favour of female condoms, create a new one by making changes to the current product. Use S—Substitute components, materials, people. So maybe a new method of selling would do the trick. Use C—Combine/mix, combine with other assemblies or services, integrate. In the case of female condoms, that could be done with male condoms or other products that reverberate in the same space. Or A—Adapt/alter, change function, use part of another element, like a female condom tailor-made for usability issues. Or M—Modify, increase or reduce in scale, change shape, modify attributes (e.g., colour). Many options here! Or P—Put to some other use. We have seen that happening beyond imagination in the case of male condoms already, with these being used to plug monsoon leaks for ceilings. Or E—Eliminate, remove elements, simplify, reduce to core functionality. Or R—Reverse, turn inside out or upside down, or use reversal, like a female condom is originally intended for protection, but we can make the whole affair around pleasure dynamics,’ Rizwaan finished in a jiffy trying to duck and save his delicate model from the evil eyes of Randeep’s coffee being spilled around.

Squinting his eyes, Randeep tried to decipher what Riya had drawn but better sense prevailed, and he quickly turned back to Riya for explanation.

‘This cube has three dimensions. Safety aspects, effectiveness of the method and attractiveness (aka ease of use and the pleasure refrain that condoms often use). The message and segmentation would depend on how these three forces interplay at various points. So, an article about V-Amour in FRAUEN-ARZT, the medical journal for German gynaecologists, revolves around the part where safety and effectiveness stand stronger than the third part.’

‘When the safety aspect is too high, the message that has to be woven around is the prevention of AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. India is at the epicentre of the AIDS pandemic, which is why the Government’s NACO stresses the use of female condoms as a prevention tool. They have a “Female Condom Scale-up Programme” that targets sex workers in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal. Let’s not forget that working with state-level NGOs to get female condoms distributed at subsidized rates of around ₹ 3.50 per piece against its cost of around ₹ 40 per piece is a great way of promotion in this tough terrain. Like UNFPA that has incorporated the female condom into national programming. They are sold under many brand names, including Reality, Femidom, Dominique, Femy, Myfemy, Protectiv and Care.’

‘What can we do when Pope Benedict talks against the use of condoms like on his trip to Africa?’ Ayesha asked.

‘That hints at a bigger question. It will take time for female condoms to gain complete acceptance. Indian women may be financially free but it will take much effort to etch female condoms firmly in this market, as an increased option of contraception and a choice to the woman,’ said Riya.

‘So it would be both about awareness and acceptance?’ Aditya summarized the whole discussion in two powerful words.

To everyone’s surprise, Randeep concluded it better.

‘This reminds me of Meg Ryan in Kate and Leopold,’ he said wistfully.

‘What? Don’t start with your movie nonsense again, R,’ Riya said, grabbing the golden opportunity to rebuke him.

‘No guys, seriously, remember when she said, as the marketing research expert talking about what consumers want. What if a consumer is not asked about their need or wants or preferences? What if we don’t ask them what they wants but rather surprise them with something they would have never even thought of in the first place!’

To that, a surprised Riya patted Randeep in admiration, and everyone raised their cups in grand toast to the powerful word of all times—the consumer.

Simple. Yet Complicated.

WEB SITES
  1. Opportunity in Female Condoms, Amit Panday, May 2009; For Dare http://dare.co.in/opportunities/health-wellness/opportunity-in-female-condoms.html
  2. Female Condom—Confidom Launched in India, May 7, 2006.
  3. No More a Guy Thing, Female Condoms Are In, December 24, 2007, http://ibnlive.in.com/news/no-more-a-guy-thing-female-condoms-are-in/54886-17.html
  4. HLL’S Launch Release for Velvet, Hanmer & Partners Communications Pvt. Ltd, December 18, 2007.
  5. About Vamour, http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20021125/DEM003-a
  6. http://www.dancewithshadows.com/pillscribe/female-condoms-in-india-get-more-popular/,August 3, 2010.
EXHIBIT

Exhibit 6.1 Using a Female Condom