I tend to shy away from talking about topics that make people blush, but I’ve decided to discuss the marketing of birth control today, for both men and women. For marketers, it is firmly in the realm of a commodity with a large target segment, a lucrative sector with many tactics and complex issues, so why not go exploring?*
The Message for Women: Convenience
Most manufacturers target women with the message of convenience. Since effectiveness is a given in this day and age, they have to sell something else, and in most cases, that’s convenience. Convenience comes in a lot of forms: one pill (numbers), quarterly shots (time), or one doctor’s visit every 5 or 10 years (time, numbers AND “mind-space”!). Most commercials feature women going about their daily activities without a thought for their contraception options. They can go to the store, the gym, the bar, the office, anywhere, anytime, without having to “be prepared” (or frolic in a field of daisies all alone, which makes no sense to me as a marketer, but that tends to be the chosen activity for most pharmaceutical commercials). Many of the product websites are clean, cheery layouts that emphasize how convenient it is to use their product.
The Message for Men: Pleasure
There’s no hormonal contraception for men (with FDA approval anyways), so manufacturers of their only option (without the help of their partner) entice them with the promise of pleasure. And, largely, pleasure through variety. All the commercials talk about explosions, fireworks, screams, bursts, joy, awakening, and a new-found desire to get down to business after using their product. They tell the men that not only will they have pleasure, but their partner will also have pleasure. So, they’ve also introduced pride and adequacy into the mix, both of which are strong psychological motivators. The manufacturers tell men they can get double the pleasure: the immediate physical aspect, and the longer-lived mental aspect.
Ease of Use and Product Education for Women: High Up-Front Investment, Low On-Going Investment
Since women’s contraception is sold with a message of convenience, the products must be easy to use and require minimal hassle to obtain and understand. This is an interesting dichotomy, because there are so many options, with so many side effects, and so many variables to consider. Choosing one option requires responsible users to research a myriad of chemicals and health issues, moral and ethical considerations, and brands and delivery methods. For some women, it requires them to switch products multiple times to avoid complications with their first choice. However, once you’ve chosen a product that works, generally the ease of use and on-going education is minimal. Pop this pill every morning at 8 am, show up to the doctor’s office on the 23rd every 3 months, or go in for your yearly exams to make sure everything is in place and effective. Lots of women make their contraception decisions outside the bedroom, and they utilize these methods outside the bedroom. The habitual and on-going use of contraception makes it easy to incorporate the product into a daily/monthly/yearly routine. (I do recognize that many women choose the option that men choose, but most women have at least considered a hormonal or barrier method that requires habitual use.)
Ease of Use and Product Education for Men: Low Up-Front Investment, High On-Going Maintenance
Men’s options are widely available and limited to one type of option, even though there’s many brands. So, choosing a brand for contraception is largely a matter of preference, and in a pinch, any brand will do. The problem is, the product has several opportunities for failure. This is amplified by the situation when men use contraception, which is generally characterized as spontaneous and hurried. It can be tricky business, and without regular practice, leaves the door open for failure.
Cost for Women: Moderate-High, On-Going vs. Cost for Men: Low, Sporadic
Hormonal contraception costs for women are moderate to high, depending on the chosen option and the insurance coverage. These costs are generally unrelated to frequency of activities, and represent an on-going cost. Men pay on a per-use basis. Since the science behind their method of contraception is much more basic, the associated costs are largely for marketing vs. R&D. So, the cost-per-use may be higher or lower than women’s, depending on the frequency of activity. It’s the difference between paying for a Netflix subscription and renting movies from Red Box. One keeps the movies ready at all times, the other gives you movies on-demand.
The Emotional Appeal
I think most of the methods for marketing the most popular methods of contraception are logical, tangible benefits. You save time, money, and headache, and you receive pleasure and protection. However, there’s one form of birth control that I believe takes a completely emotional approach: natural family planning. Some advocates try to use facts about harming your body with chemicals, but most appeal to some sense of holistic, spiritual, or religious connotation. They ask you to consider the ethics of utilizing one option, the morality of another, and the general “goodness” of using NFP over artificial forms of contraception. And, as we know, emotional appeals work! This is particularly true for product associations, like being “natural” in your cleaning products, “going green” by recycling and using less water, and adhering to other religious teachings. The message from NFP advocates is that, if you want be consistent in your beliefs, you should utilize this method over other options. Since the aforementioned beliefs are generally tied to the belief in some higher purpose (be it humanity, a deity, nature, etc.) this appeal is extremely effective.
So, there you have it, an analysis of some of the tactics marketers use to sell different forms of birth control! I’ve recently found pharmaceutical marketing to be quite interesting, since it walks the line between a necessary item and a luxury item, branded options and generic options, and ethical considerations. There’s so much more associated with these types of products than just “effectiveness”, and I think marketers play a huge part in shaping this massive industry.
*I’ll make the disclaimer that I am a woman of childbearing age who firmly believes that some form of “modern” birth control is a necessity. So, I’m not aiming to start a debate about whether it is or isn’t morally acceptable, or which brand or method you should use. I’m simply observing and commenting on an area that is particularly relevant to a large segment of the population.