It’s best not to fake it too often. Global condom maker Durex’s hoax tweet this week that it was launching an “aubergine-flavoured” line of rubbers may have got it plenty of eyeballs online and shrieks of disbelief in India, but frequent spoofs like that may erode consumer trust, say marketing experts in Asia.
Catherine Chai, a Singapore-based brand advisor with Broc Consulting, said publicity stunts that involve online hoaxes must ensure that “the consequences of finding out the ‘truth’ does not make the consumers ‘look stupid’”.
“It should be about changing attitudes and mindsets you wish to influence, not cheap talk,” she said.
The announcement on Twitter late Monday – complete with the “#breakingnews” hashtag and the widely used purple aubergine emoji – immediately drew widespread consternation from Twitter users baffled by the announcement.
It especially drew mock horror in India, where aubergine – or eggplant – is a key ingredient in popular dishes like bhaingan ka bharta,a kind of eggplant curry.
“I’ll never see bhaingan ka bharta in the same way ever again,” wrote Twitter user Aashish Mehrotra.
Hours later, the well-known global brand turned the tables, tweeting that the post was actually part of an online campaign to promote safe sex. The company has been lobbying hard for Unicode, the California-based coding consortium that acts as a gatekeeper for permissible emojis, to introduce a condom-themed pictograph.
It has previously released research showing that young people felt more comfortable talking about sex online when they are using digital icons.
“You got us, there’s no eggplant condom! But why no #Condomemoji? RT if you agree emoji makers should make one!” the company tweeted.
The aubergine emoji has been the de facto icon representing the male genitalia. The peach icon is commonly used to illustrate female private parts.
Durex has proposed an icon of an angled and inflated condom as the emoji representing the male contraceptive.
Brand experts in Asia say Durex’s stunt is fitting with its public profile as a “fun” company, but
such gags, if employed too often, could render them limp.
“It’s in the Durex brand DNA to be fun and playful and that allows them to pull stunts like this,” said Ryan Lim, principal consultant and founding partner of Singapore-based QED Consulting.
“Of course, you want to be wary of crying wolf too many times or it could damage your brand credibility,” he said.
Jamie Morse, director of corporate at Australia’s Horizon Communication Group, said the global condom maker can consider the spoof a success only if its objective was to spur conversations on condoms.
“But if they wanted to raise public awareness of a real need for additions to the emoji dictionary, that’s another matter,” Morse told the South China Morning Post. “I would question whether Durex needed to resort to stunts to have that conversation with consumers,” he said.
Durex has a history of pulling off quirky campaigns in Asia. Last year, on the occasion of Singapore’s 50th anniversary of independence, it circulated a picture online that was made to look like it was in a full-page advertisement in a local newspaper apologising for the country’s low birth rate.
“If no one’s laughing and you’re trying to sell prophylactics, the campaign could damage your brand’s mojo,” said Morse.