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News & Views

Who’s getting screwed?

Amy Lockwood wants people in the Congo to use condoms.

1.3% of the people living in the Congo have HIV Aids.

That doesn’t sound like a lot.

But the Democratic Congo Republic is the size of Western Europe.

And 1.3% is nearly a million people.

So it’s crucial they use condoms to stop spreading the disease.

Amy Lockwood runs The Centre for Innovation in Global Health, at Stanford University.

She was puzzled why only 3% of people in the Congo use condoms when international aid agencies send them by the truckload.

Plus which, the aid agencies also send out lots of advertising and marketing material with the condoms.

Before Amy had her present job, she was in marketing.

And she could see the two things just didn’t add up.

So she asked the locals, shopkeepers and brothel owners, why their customers weren’t using the condoms.

They said the condoms and advertising weren’t attractive.

Amy thought there must be a disconnect.

Between the people who were approving the advertising and the people it was supposed to be aimed at.

She noticed all the messaging in the ads and packaging was about: Fear and Fidelity.

1) Don’t get an incurable disease.

2) Stay faithful to one partner.

As Amy says, these probably aren’t what you’re thinking about at the moment you’re about to use a condom.

You’re probably thinking about sex.

But the problem is the advertising isn’t done for the audience that are actually using the condoms.

In fact the audience isn’t anyone in the Congo at all.

The audience is in the USA.

Politicians, donors, clinicians, philanthropists, aid-agencies, non-governmental organisations, development institutions, charities, governments, funders.

And none of these want to see a message about sex.

They want to see messages about Fear and Fidelity.

So the condoms are soberly and demurely packaged.

With names like: Vive, Trust, Protector, and Prudence.

Names the audience in the USA will approve.

And the advertising features lines like: “Thank you for taking care of yourself and protecting your partner.”

Because that’s the message the audience back in America wants to hear.

The only trouble is the audience that they want to use the condoms isn’t in America.

And that’s what Amy Lockwood said is one of the most important lessons she’s learned since she graduated with a marketing degree.

And it isn’t something they teach you on the course.

Your real customer may not be your perceived customer.

For Amy the real customer is sitting in America.

The real customer is the person who approves the advertising.

The perceived customer is sitting in the Congo.

But you can tell that isn’t the audience the work is done for.

And that’s how most of advertising and marketing is.

Amy Lockwood says there is one fundamental question we all deceive ourselves about.

And, unless we answer it truthfully, advertising and marketing are just a waste of time.


“Who is your customer and what are the messages that are going to get them to change their behaviour?”

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