In this photo illustration Durex condoms are displ
Illustration Durex condoms. (Photo Illustration by Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
  • A radio advert promoting Durex condoms and safe sex is not disturbing, even to kids who may be listening.
  • Instead, this should be an opportunity to educate kids on safe sex practices.
  • Although it could be aired at better times, the ad is not harmful to children and would not necessarily influence kids to engage in sex.
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A Durex advert that links its condoms to better sex is not disturbing, not even when kids are listening, the Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) said in its latest ruling. 

In a radio commercial by the makers of Durex, Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals, a male voice, speaking Sesotho, is heard saying, “Aah, the Spaza. It is quick, very convenient, and in your area. It is a place where you get all what you need. Local things. Like fat cakes...and Durex,” 

The male voice ends the advert with a pay offline that says, “Better quality for sex that is a little bit better.”

The payoff line was the point of contention in the ARB’s latest dispute, where the advert was blamed for being inappropriate and disturbing, especially for kids who may be listening to the radio. 

The Durex advert was aired early last month on a local Sesotho radio station, Lesedi FM. 

In the dispute, the ARB’s Directorate considered whether the central premise of the advert, which lies in the phrasing of its tagline, is harmful to children. The phrasing which triggered the complaint was, “thobalano e betere,” Sesotho for “better sex” derived from the full tagline “Better quality for sex that is a little bit better”. 

In its response, the makers of Durex said, while the ad does not influence children, it also does not contain statements or visual presentations with the potential for harming children mentally, morally, physically, or even emotionally.

It said its condoms, which are permitted to be advertised in South Africa, play a significant role in sexual health. It said the ad promotes responsible behaviour and condom use when engaging in sex and should not be viewed as offensive.

It further argues that the advert was not aimed at children.

“Nowhere in the advertisement was there an aim to advertise to children, or appeal to children. It was merely to make the consumer aware of the product,” Reckitt Benckiser said.

It also said the ad was not done offensively and that the “better sex” wording was in line with the product in question, which is used solely in the course and scope of sexual acts.  “Knowledge of the product is certainly in the public interest, and further, the reference was not enhanced or highlighted in any way to draw any additional attention to it, and therefore there is no basis to consider it offensive,” said Reckitt Benckiser.

Although the advert did not flout advertising laws and is not in itself harmful to children and would not influence them to engage in sex, it could have been flighted at better times, the ARB said. 

It found that the matter was complex given the context of the word “thobalano” in the Sesotho language. The word “thobalano,” which is more of a euphemism for sex, literally means “sleeping on top of each other”, or “sleeping together” when loosely translated. In Sesotho, the technical word for sex may be taboo and culturally regarded as a swear word. 

The Directorate believed children over the age of 12, who may already understand the true meaning of the word “thobalano”, were most likely already exposed to safe sex messages and basic sex education through school. 

It said the advert could be used as a springboard for parents to have sex education conversations with their children. “The potential problem for the Directorate lies with those children who are still young enough that they will not necessarily have been exposed to appropriate sex education - children who are only starting with their formal schooling and fall within the 6 to 11 age group - and who are also at risk of being exposed to the message that is the subject matter of this complaint. The question is whether this group might be harmed by hearing the message,” the ARB said

However, the tagline in question, accompanied by an implied message that encourages condom use during sex, is an essential part of safe sex conversations and education around adult sexuality, it said. 

“In addition, it is perhaps a message that might have been part of the sex education lessons done with older children, where proper usage of condoms was being encouraged, indicating that condom usage does not diminish sexual pleasure,” the ARB said in it.

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