By: Inti Tam

A three-hour streaming group sex tape aired recently in China by condom giant Durex seemed to leave viewers wanting more when the promised orgy stopped short of climax.

The innovative condom and sex-toy marketer sprung its latest surprise to grab even more attention from consumers used to the company’s humorous and risque pitches. This time around, 50 couples gabbed, flirted and smooched before heading for the sheets. Alas, what seemed poised for an epic romp turned into a tease when the screen disappeared in a cloud of white smoke.

Either because the couples appeared to be engaging in public sex, or because people were disappointed that they didn’t, at least 100,000 of them clicked at hashtag saying “#resist Durex.” The disappointed ones apparently won out, by a large margin.

But the adage that all advertising, good or bad, is good advertising, seems to have worked, and it isn’t the first time.  In 2013, a science fiction trailer went viral featuring a terrified, bespectacled nerd beset by monsters who is suddenly transformed into a superhero when a giant neon-blue condom descends over him and makes him invulnerable.

It is safe to say that Durex, a unit of Reckitt Benckiser, over the years has created some of most irreverent advertising seen anywhere to push a product that by its nature tends to make prudes and governments nervous. For instance, although they weren’t an official sponsor of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Durex provided 150,000 free condoms to more than 10,000 athletes that competed in the games.

On April 26, Durex went on the Internet to broadcast the white-clad couples trying on the company’s newest product, “Durex AiR,” apologies to Michael Jordan and Nike.  The live-broadcast show saw the 50 couples in what looked like a giant laboratory, aired on six online video service providers including Youku, LeEco, Douyu and more.

That was preceded by a visual posted by Durex on its Sina Weibo page that read “Durex is looking for 100 lovers to do one thing.”

But they didn’t do that one thing. Instead, as the show progressed, all the audiences could see was the couples warming up. When participants finally got under the covers, the broadcast ended in the cloud of smoke.

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News portal QQ.com estimated that five million viewers tuned into the six platforms on which the event was streamed. Although the stunt drew a huge audience, the catchy marketing strategy was the subject of outraged criticism from netizens. Most of them considered the whole event to be anticlimactic, so to speak. Many people complained they were tricked by Durex, saying it was a hoax, that “nothing happened until the end.”

As of the morning of April 28, the “#resist Durex” itself had gone viral. Some upset net users said they would select its rival, the Japanese product Okamoto, the next time they dive under the sheets. Nonetheless, such antics have given Durex a major lead in China, enjoying a 45 percent market share while Okamoto holds 20 percent.

At that, the condom manufacturer was daring a newly strict Chinese censor, which has been tightening controls over the internet, a place where the government says it is especially not advisable to ignite sex talk. In March, the Chinese government said foreign companies or foreign joint ventures would be restricted from disseminating a wide range of content online, including text, maps, games, animation, audio and video.

After the broadcast, many internet users questioned the web platforms’ judgment in agreeing to air the “public sex” content.  In response to such practices, the National Anti-Pornography and Anti-Illegal Publications Office announced Wednesday on Weibo that it will fight” soft pornography” and “sexually suggestive online marketing”, and called for Internet companies to “assume responsibility.”

Inti Tam is a reporter with the Hong Kong-based Marketing Magazine