Chances are you’ve seen some version of this purported Durex advertisement in heavy circulation at some point during the COVID-19 pandemic, featuring and comparing a face mask with a condom:
The screenshot above included commentary from a separate post, “Durex have smashed it with this lockdown advert.”
Under the mask on the left, text read “Going Out.” Under the condom, text read “Going In.” Alongside a Durex logo and photographs of a surgical mask and a Durex condom, text at the top read:
Protect Yourself & Your Loved Ones
It was clear that the purported Durex advertisement enjoyed considerable exposure on social media, spreading on Twitter:
Durex absolutely nailed it with this ad! pic.twitter.com/nVCnBA834Y
— F For Effort (@FForEffort1) July 13, 2020
And on Instagram:
We noticed that earlier versions of the purported Durex advertisement frequently featured languages other than English, and some initial iterations looked less like Durex’s branding:
One iteration dated back to June 13 2020.
Durex’s COVID-19 Advertising
At the same time the meme was circulating, Durex’s various region-specific accounts were sharing advertising campaigns which referenced the COVID-19 pandemic.
On May 19 2020, the global account @Durex promoted their #LetsNotGoBackToNormal campaign — but it didn’t include the image of a mask and a condom side by side:
— Durex Global (@durex) May 7, 2020
On May 28 2020, TheDrum.com explored Durex’s coronavirus messaging, and a “disruptive” strategy that went a lot deeper than the mask/condom analogy. That coverage explored Durex’s advertising efforts and the brand’s concurrent research into sex and the pandemic:
“We’ve spent a lot of time trying to listen to people and respond with content that’s relevant. When lockdown happened we were one of the first brands to push the ‘Stay At Home’ message and we’ve since evolved that into areas like self-discovery and masturbation – which is the safest form of sex in lockdown.”
As countries around the world outline plans to ease lockdown restrictions and people begin to look toward some semblance of normality, Durex’s most significant lockdown push has boldly asked people not to go back to ‘normal’ when it comes to sex.
Pointing to ‘norms’ such as shaming women who carry condoms, or men not wearing them because they don’t like the ‘feel’, the brand argues that the current crisis represents a unique chance to reset what ‘normal’ looks like.
The push is being delivered across owned channels and social, as well as further executions over the coming weeks. OOH mockups have been widely shared online too.
“Pre-normal before Covid-19 was one in five women enjoying their first sexual experience. It was a million STIs every day. It was LGBTQ people feeling all sorts of anxieties and pressures. Normal was not good. So we want to challenge those conventions.”
That coverage didn’t mention masks at all, and it also didn’t include a reference to iterations of the meme with Durex’s branding in languages other than English. Other advertising industry sites covered Durex’s COVID-19 advertising at length, but always without the mask and condom meme.
Official @Durex Account Content
Durex’s various, verified and country-specific accounts continued sharing pandemic-related advertising in June and July 2020. However, @Durex on Instagram did not share the advertisement in the meme, instead posting more in-depth content about sex and COVID-19:
Durex India’s Instagram account also referenced the pandemic in a post in early April 2020, but it didn’t share the condom/mask advertisement:
On July 2 2020, Durex USA’s Facebook page shared a post that did reference condoms as well as face masks:
Finally, a July 5 2020 post was shared on the Facebook page @DurexPH, featuring the meme:
At first glance, it looked like the advertisement was partly “memed” into existence. But an “about” section on @DurexPH’s Facebook page explained that it was created by fans:
Intense Passion (Durex Philippines) Facebook fan page is a platform for fans to share, discuss and to get to know more about Durex, its benefits and effects. Contents which are posted by fans do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Durex Philippines …
Previous Viral ‘Condom Ads’
A purported condom advertisement satirizing world leaders (including President Donald Trump) went similarly viral in January 2020 and earlier:
Although variations on that artwork are still spread as a “condom ad,” the imagery was in fact a creative work and not an advertisement as such.
A COVID-19 themed, purported condom advertisement labeled “Durex have smashed it with this lockdown advert” featuring a comparison between a condom and a mask spread in June and July 2020, but it didn’t appear to be the work of Durex or any agency working on their behalf. Durex did create pandemic-specific advertisements, but the campaign did not feature masks, and it had a completely different hashtag and focus. The creator of the image remains unknown, but Durex never seemed to claim the image for itself despite its global popularity — making it unlikely that it was specifically commissioned or endorsed by the company.