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It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a Condom!
The latest science fiction film to go viral in Hong Kong features a bespectacled nerd beset by monsters. The terrified young man is then suddenly transformed when a giant neon-blue condom descends and turns him into an invulnerable superhero.
A giant neon-blue condom? Rubberman? Well, yeah.
Meet Performan, the latest brainchild of Reckitt Benckiser's condom brand Durex, whose advertising campaigns over the years have created some of most irreverent advertising seen anywhere to push a product that by its nature tends to make the prudes among us nervous.
It wasn't too many years ago that condoms were hidden behind merchants' counters, to be asked for by nervous buyers anxious not to be overheard by other customers. In traditionally modest Asian societies, condoms were not something one discussed. But with the need for safe sex to combat AIDs, the condom has come out of the closet. And Durex and it imaginative ads are not alone. Trojan, Hansaplast, LifeStyles and others have turned condom advertising into a peculiar and entertaining commercial art form. It is one probably born of the need to extol the performance of a sensitive product, like toilet paper, while being careful not to describe its exact function.
As with any viral video, Performan has made his latex-clad rounds online.
This one is a 12 minute, 40 second spoof of a typical modern superhero flick. The film features a sociology student, portrayed as diffident and indecisive, along the lines of Peter Parker of Spiderman fame, who finds himself tasked to prevent a "war of the genders" from happening at some point in the future. He is aided by a decidedly lubricious special agent named Love, who has been dispatched from the future to help him protect Hong Kong.
His source of power? That intimate Durex raincoat, of course.
At one point in the Cantonese-language micro-film, the protagonist, surrounded by robot monsters, suits up in a human-sized condom that transforms him into Performan - a masked wonder with the ability, according to the narrative, to "delay his enemies' attacking speed, while prolonging his performance." Indeed.
The message is crystal clear. Much as Iron Man finds his strength in his titanium suit and fighting prowess, our Durex hero gets lasting performance and extra endurance from his electric-blue condom coat.
Parody or not, since its July 24 release on YouTube, Performan has amassed more than 90,000 hits. For a promotional video targeted at a certain language group, that is quite a feat. Additional promotions are reported to be coming soon for the micro-epic.
Entertainment value aside, reactions from Hong Kong netizens have been mixed. While some applaud the humor and creativity behind the film and advertising, many have criticized it for being vague in its message and poorly executed.
"This mini movie is obviously selling a sexual object, but while they feel the need to avoid spelling it out, they keep ‘hinting' at it," one person wrote in the comments section on YouTube. "In the end it's neither here nor there. The only good thing about the film is its animation. Durex might have been better off making a legitimate sex film."
Another said the film didn't make him want to buy Durex condoms, which would seem to backfire from the purpose of an advertisement.
"The strategy for this campaign is to leverage on the current superhero movie wave to stir conversation and increase the number of searches on both Durex products and the micro-movie," Rex Tang, associate director of PHD, one of the media agencies behind the mini-movie, told Marketing Interactive, a Hong Kong-based advertising and marketing trade publication.
It certainly is the right time to go superhero. This summer has seen the release of Iron Man 3, Man of Steel and The Wolverine, the latest from the X-Men franchise. Marvel's Thor is also set to be released later this year.
This is hardly new for Durex. Last year, the condom company rode the coattails of Euro 2012 fever and produced a mobile game app, Team Durex. The game allows players to "flick" their fingers across their phone screens to move a ball in different directions to "score." You get the idea.
Durex advertisements are known for being cheeky - and Internet campaigns play a large part in the image. Earlier this year, Durex Australia published a video on YouTube and Facebook promoting a "Funderwear" prototype. The high-tech vibrating underwear, suitable for either sex, can be stimulated by the touch of a button on an iPhone. The campaign was covered by international media, including Huffington Post, the Guardian and Telegraph.
Print campaigns by the condom brand are equally creative. Past advertisements have included a "No Exit" condom maze and various images of post-coital satisfaction, which are much-praised on the Internet as being some of the most creative condom ads.
The extent to which these campaigns boost Durex sales is unknown - but it definitely keeps them the talk of the town and perhaps the go-to brand for nerds and wannabe superheroes.