Carla Dabis, Commercial Director MEA at VICE Media, explains how Durex and Vice Media Group launched Durex Records to break stereotypes and overcome taboos in the UAE and KSA.
How and why was the Durex Records initiative created?
Durex Records was designed to connect with progressive youth in the UAE and KSA and to empower self-expression through music. Due to the sensitivities around contraceptive brands, Durex had previously been dark in this market, despite a sexually active audience with high awareness of the brand. By leveraging the partnership with Vice, Durex was able unlock an audience ready and willing to be exposed to this messaging. Tackling taboo topics around sexual liberation, wellness, and identity in this part of the world can be a challenge. By removing conversations around contraceptives and enabling conversations around self-expression with music as the catalyst we were able to really connect with the youth in Saudi Arabia and UAE.
What were the business objectives that Vice was looking to achieve through this partnership with Durex?
Vice’s very existence is to push the boundaries, normalize cultural taboos, and give marginalized voices a platform to share their stories. Establishing a dialogue around self-identity and self-expression, whether that means sexual liberation or finding your uniqueness, is a story that we strive to be part of. This partnership is so much more than a business exchange; at the core, it represents who we are as a brand, how we are connected to culture, and how we want to engage with youth, particularly in this region.
Sparking conversations around sex education, self-expression, and inclusivity in the Middle East must have been challenging. What hurdles did you face?
People aren’t yet ready to talk about sex or sexual wellness, but everybody wants to talk about music and that obviously plays in our favor. Through the lens of music, our audience have been very receptive to a dialogue with Durex. And as one of the most provocative publishers in this market, we are in a unique position to engage audiences on topics that might otherwise be perceived as taboo. We have and still face challenges with different partners, from those who cannot legally associate with a contraceptive brand to the musicians who are still uncomfortable associating themselves Durex. But we must look at the bigger picture and respect boundaries. With time and as Durex becomes more culturally relevant in this market, we should be able to speak more openly about sexual education as it relates to self-expression and identity. As we move into year two of this campaign, launching in May, we will take the conversation with musicians and our audience to new heights to continue to push the boundaries, challenge the status-quo, and build momentum.
What inspired the use of hip-hop and rap music as the medium of expression for this purpose?
Hip hop has aggressively become one of the most consumed music genres in recent years, with a sizable and established community in the region. We didn’t want to cultivate a new community, so we relied on one that assured relevancy and engagement. Hip hop provided us with an unmatched authenticity that resonates with both Durex and Vice audiences, especially through the eyes of our selected artists.
Did you face any conservative backlash on this approach? If so, how did you handle it?
With music and self-expression at the heart of this campaign, we have not received conservative backlash. That might have been very different had we led with sexual education from the onset, but it was a conscious decision to focus on connecting emotionally and building brand equity first to integrate seamlessly into culture.
Inspiring and educating the youth is a goal for Vice Arabia as a publication. To what extent has this campaign achieved that and how?
This campaign has moved Durex into a safe space in terms of reducing the stigma around the brand with youth in the region. This partnership has given our musicians and audience a platform free of inhibitions, while simultaneously empowering and supporting a cultural medium that resonates with the youth. From the positive response we’ve received so far, we know that we are normalizing conversations around a contraceptive brand, sexual health, and identity through the lens of self-expression, all of which are values 100% aligned with Vice as a publication. We see this as our biggest win.
How open has the youth across the Middle East been to these conversations?
Very. I think this campaign is a testament to the appetite there is in the market for more open conversations around sexuality and self-expression. The willingness and excitement we’ve seen from artists alone to engage in the upcoming season of Durex Records cements the sentiment around the campaign. And the numbers go to show just how much it’s needed. Our data shows that Durex saw 51% ad recall during the campaign and Arabic hip hop saw 125% growth in listenership across the same period. Durex Records made audiences see the brand in a new light, a light that also contributed to a lift in sales and recognition in the market, but most importantly a nod from the hip hop community in the region.
KSA is going through a cultural renaissance; how can brands and marketers make the most of it?
I think the most important thing brands can do is listen. The pace at which Saudi is evolving is intense, and as marketeers, we need to be on the inside of culture vs outside looking in. The progressive youth of Saudi are literally rewriting their own story; so, being on ground, engaged, in conversation and in tune with these ongoing changes from the inside is critical to understanding how to be culturally relevant. Brands need to give these voices a platform and become enablers of the new narratives in the Kingdom.