Can Durex crack livestreaming in China?

British condom brand Durex has started testing the waters in livestreaming e-commerce by advertising select products on Douyin, TikTok’s sister app in China, with plans to scale up soon.

The sticking point is how to sell sexual health products in a tightly controlled internet ecosystem with clear moral boundaries around “vulgar” content. If an ass-shaking panda is enough to get a livestream blocked, how does a condom maker have any chance?

“There is no clear definition of what vulgar content is – that’s up to the regulator to decide and the system is quite socially conservative,” Kendra Schaefer, head of tech policy at China-focused research firm Trivium, told Reuters. “So how do you talk about sexual health without tripping the ‘vulgar’ issue? It’s a delicate line to walk.”

But given that livestreaming has become one of China’s most important sales channels, the opportunity is simply too good to miss. According to US-based research from Insider Intelligence, livestreaming generated 238 billion USD in sales in China in 2022, a figure that is set to surpass 300 billion by 2025. Durex already boasts an impressive 40% market share in China, but if it can crack this powerful sales channel there is more for the taking.

But it has to find the right marketing tone first. Durex has been fined multiple times for “disrupting public order” and “breaching good social conventions,” by China’s advertising regulators in the past, so it will have to diverge from the more explicit advertising tactics Brits might be used to. However, the mahjong set it released last year in honour of Chinese New Year garnered mostly positive attention, suggesting that more ambiguous slogans could be a winning formula with Chinese consumers.  

Overall, the Greater China team at Durex’s parent company Reckitt are feeling optimistic. Arjun Purkayastha, who heads the team, summed it up: “It’s just a matter of time that we learn to do it in a classy manner without offending anyone”.


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