How to brand products with social stigma

With the right branding, products with social stigma aren’t difficult to sell, says Angus Montgomery, but it still pays not to be too explicit

‘Five years ago you couldn’t buy a cock ring in Tesco,’ says Simon Preece, brand consultant at Elmwood. ‘Now, not only do supermarkets stock them, but Durex is selling five million units a year.’

Statistics like this are the result of Elmwood’s work to reposition the company, known predominantly as a condom manufacturer, as a sexual wellbeing brand. In Preece’s words, Elmwood’s task is to ‘normalise’ Durex.

Since its appointment to the Durex account in 2006, Elmwood has been grappling with an issue which is an extension of the adage, ‘Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don’t have on something they don’t need’. Except in this case, people are spending money they do have (UK sales by Durex owner SSL International were £532m in 2007) on something they really do need, but can be a little too embarrassed to ask for.

Dragon creative director Keshi Bouri has also faced this dilemma. In 2007 Dragon was asked to create a new identity for incontinence brand Tena, with the explicit aim of disassociating the condition from any social stigma, a project the consultancy has just completed.

Bouri had previously worked on revamping the identity of Libresse, the European brand for sanpro company Bodyform. He outlines a number of tactics which can be used to combat consumer stigma that brands may suffer from.

‘It’s important that you have an open and honest tone of voice,’ he says. ‘Language is a key issue. You have to really understand the vocabulary you are going to use. For example, do you refer to incontinence pads or pants? There’s a lot of • Use straightforward, authoritative language and avoid allusions and patronising phrases

• Use a warm colour palette, and try to avoid anything too lurid or which has connotations of bodily functions

• Consider the name and logo carefully: Bouri says Dragon considered changing the Tena name, but found it was widely known outside the UK, with no stigma attached; Elmwood worked to soften the Durex logo to make it more unisexfear of taboo words, such as “leak” or “discharge”, in feminine hygiene issues. Marketers are scared of these sorts of words, but I don’t think consumers have so much of a problem with them.’

In terms of artwork, Bouri recommends having more than one person in a photograph, or having people engaging with the camera, so the consumer doesn’t feel alone with their condition. Dragon also developed the concept of a park on Tena’s website. ‘We wanted an environment that was a metaphor for freedom and people not being trapped in a house [just to be] near a lavatory,’ says Bouri. This natural colour scheme was then carried through into the rest of the identity.

Preece agrees tone of voice is key. ‘The Durex approach is to be completely non-judgemental and use straightforward language,’ he says. ‘If you go down the road of using words like “lovemaking” instead of “sex” and showing lots of nice pictures of flowers, you’re one step away from just showing trains going into tunnels.

‘But you have to be mindful that these products are sold in supermarkets, so you shouldn’t design something that’s going to stand out like a testcard in the shopping basket.’

The Durex Play O, an orgasm-enhancing gel, is subtly packaged like a high-end perfume, perhaps to justify the price: £19.99 for a 15ml bottle.

Preece also advises using ‘warm, unisex colours, but nothing too vibrant – that can veer towards childishness’. In contrast to Tena, he says, Durex avoids packaging that carries photographs of people, as there is a danger the consumer will look at them and think ‘that’s not my lifestyle’.

Giovannna Forte, managing director of Funnelly Enough, is preparing for the consumer launch later this year of the Peezy, a urine-collection device for women designed by her doctor brother, Vincent. It already sells to the medical market, following development with product designer Maddison.

Forte claims the name ‘Peezy’ has been key to the product’s success so far. ‘It gets people laughing,’ she says. ‘When my brother first invented the product, he wanted to call it “the Female Freedom Funnel”.’ The Funnelly Enough brand, designed by David Revell and developed by Paul Jenkins at Ranch, uses a purple and green colour palette, chosen, she says, because neither colour has any connotation of bodily functions. It also uses a female model who Forte refers to as ‘the face of Peezy’. ‘She looks pretty pleased with herself,’ she notes.

In the specialist medical market, Forte says she can afford to be a bit more explicit about Peezy’s function – the website features a highly detailed illustrated guide on how to use it – but admits that this might be toned down a bit for the consumer launch.

However, she concludes with a sentiment with which Preece and Bouri would surely concur, ‘I’m an earthy person and I believe you have to be candid about what the product is.’


A FEW TIPS ON HOW TO DESTIGMATISE A PRODUCT OR BRAND:


• Use straightforward, authoritative language and avoid allusions and patronising phrases
• Use a warm colour palette, and try to avoid anything too lurid or which has connotations of bodily functions
• Consider the name and logo carefully: Bouri says Dragon considered changing the Tena name, but found it was widely known outside the UK, with no stigma attached; Elmwood worked to soften the Durex logo to make it more unisex





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