It’s carnival in Brazil, one of the most important events of the year and before which the New Year doesn’t get off the ground. So let’s have a look at one of the most crucial ingredients of this ‘wild’ festival: The condom. And of course condoms have to be packed. That’s why we are here.
The American news website HuffingtonPost, famously distorting the facts in its attempt to reach the same level as Murdoch’s gutter journalism, blared: “Carnival: Brazil Handing Out 55 Million Condoms”. As is common usage it’s a half truth.
In its successful battle against AIDS, the Brazilian government is handing out 45 million condoms monthly, only adding some 10 million ones extra during the Carnival period.
As I live in the North of Brazil, it was, stupid as it may sound, the direct reason for me to have a look at the worldwide packaging of condoms. How dull or how spectacular are the packages. From a material’s point view nothing is spectacular, as the condom itself is always flow-packed in a plastic/aluminium film and if a secondary packaging exists it’s almost always a simple folding carton using sometimes interesting printing techniques. But you have to agree that it’s an industry which lacks all aspects of creativity. We walk along the most prominent brands and see an almost dull similarity in all packaging, qua construction as well as material composition.
But see, if given the chance, what designers can do with creativity. Read through the dull part first and enjoy the ‘real’ ones at the end of this article. The best is in the tail, as always.
We start (of course) with Brazil. Well, don’t expect anything special. They come (for a large part) from the state-owned Natex factory (see my articles on my blog “Brazil In Hot Pants”, here and here), and are distributed free and for nothing by the Ministry of Public Health, and as a consequence don’t have to compete with the commercially operating companies. A simple, but still effective packaging is the result.
The 2006 Hema condom packaging
Hema, a chain of department stores in the Netherlands, famous for its low prices, high quality and simple and outstanding design, introduced in 2006 a new packaging for its condoms. The packaging line for the different types of condoms, developed by Studio Kluif, uses black in gloss as basic colour referring to the night and eroticism while the image can be interpreted in many ways. Or as Kluif explains: “An approaching entanglement? Swirling satin sheets? So many lovers, so many fantasies.”
You agree? For me it’s so standard, not worth the outstanding design standard Hema is famous for.
“Join the Revolution!”
Which doesn’t, by the way, translate into the design of the packaging. According to the company, Mates Skyn is a revolutionary condom made from Sensoprene, making it softer and much more flexible, all with the strength of a latex condom. In short it feels like “the closest thing to wearing nothing.”
So, they call for: “Join the Revolution!” However what is strange is that the company claims a revolutionary product and although the packaging looks quite nice, it doesn’t represent a ‘revolution’. A missed chance, probably because it is British, where regarding sex they have a big mouth combined with a Victorian mindset.
And so it goes in Sweden
In Sweden the Riksförbundet för Sexuell Upplysning (the Swedish Association for Sexual Education), founded in 1983 by Elise Ottesen-Jensen, sells condoms as part of their fundraising. The RFSU product range is made of natural latex rubber, and meets the ISO and European standard. RFSU condoms are available at 22 countries around the globe.
They are packed in a nicely designed 3-pack folding carton. Very classy, although a bit too classical. Where is the well-known and celebrated Swedish design?
Brian Swarthout, graduated from the Myers School of Art of the University of Akron, created this identity and package design for Joyne condoms, arguing, that
“Current condom branding aims at a male audience, bursts with flashy visuals eliminating tact and grace. Joyne, a line of premium quality condoms, presents the consumer with a more permissible and elegant product with no need to be hidden. Although the rigid packaging uses more material, durability and ease of transport are increased”.
It’s indeed classy, and might attract the female buyer, but at the same time it’s very traditional.
Ansell Healthcare Products tried to move beyond the generally understated design in condom packaging by intensifying the design impact of the carton for the new X2 brand.
CBX designed an eye-catching, black-colour carton with graphics in red, yellow, and white swirls to project dynamism. The design intends to capture the attention of young men eager for both satisfaction and safety.
Silver foil on each 12-pack carton conveys the premium nature of both the product and the brand.
Did Ansell move beyond the understated design. The packaging construction is so traditional that no consumer will see the difference between the one brand or the other.
Before we go on to the better part of the story, just one more to underscore the dullness. Grove Medical LLC, which focuses on technologically advanced design, has launched its first product: Sensis Condoms with Quikstrips. Advanced design? Not for the packaging anyway.
From here on, it’s getting better. I appreciate the fact that the condom is a male preservative, but it’s like dancing a tango. It needs two. Finally there are some companies realis that there is another player is this field. And a very important one. The female partner.
Today it is increasingly acceptable for women to be openly sexual active and to be having casual sex. However many women gamble, expecting the partner to provide the protection. For some reason the conventional condom packaging is not appealing to a woman, so she doesn’t buy them. Designer Philip Skinner developed a new packaging range with a womanly touch. The range of condoms intends to encourage women to buy and carry a condom, “because you never know”. The design was winner of the Future Talent 2007. Discrete and with a whiff of nature.
Sex og Sundhed
In Denmark Sex & Sundhed (Centre for Sex & Health), an independent, voluntary centre for preventative care, established in 1985 and Denmark’s oldest HIV/AIDS organisation, asked the designers Mads Jakob Poulsen and Robert Nagy to develop an appealing package for three condoms as a give away. The target group was young people from 15-25 years of age.
As the Scandinavian countries are less puritan and more realistic regarding sex, the briefing was, simply said, to come across in eye level with the target group without being patronizing or judgmental: “sex is fun yet serious, if you have condoms go have some!”
They constructed a handy package which opens from the right to the left, revealing a simple humoristic statement each time you take out a condom.
First condom: “SEX”, second condom “MORE SEX”, last condom “NO MORE SEX”
The statements connect condoms with having sex, and no more condoms meaning no more sex. Very effective.
No Baby, A Girl’s Friend
It is apparent that a female designer comes up with something, no male designer should think about. Qian Fei, an industrial designer from WuXi in China, isn’t thinking in terms of the boys buying the condoms, but stimulating the girls by having them available if needed.
The pictures I show here, tell the story and I must say it’s a refreshing approach of the potential customer: the young girl.
By the way, a Kawaii shop is like a bazaar or bric-a-brac shop, where typically girlish products, like dolls, puppets, pillows, toys and all type of knickknack and bauble is sold. Indeed the perfect spot to buy a film roll of condoms, as no boys will been seen there and the girl feels safe from preying eyes.
Comment: The reader agrees with me? Without the individual creative designer who comes up with a daring design, it is, obviously, a very conservative male oriented industry with no one thinking outside the box. Some fresh wind is urgently needed.