Within the last decade condom ads on U.S. Television were an unthinkable presence on local and national broadcast stations. But now condoms and other topics once considered "taboo" are beginning to make an appearance in our living rooms. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, an organization which follows social trends, a number of leading broadcast networks, as well as cable channels have in recent years quietly become lax on some of the longstanding policies prohibiting contraceptive commercials. But several others still prohibit advertising for condoms, even though they accept ads for other types of birth control; and those that do run condom commercials often have restrictions about when and how they can be advertised. What is behind these shifting policies? What has been the experience of those networks that now allow condom ads? Why do some other networks feel comfortable with increasingly sexual programming, but not with condom commercials? How do viewers really feel about condom ads on TV? How much influence does advertising have on the use and choice of contraception? How much influence do condom commercials have on attitudes toward safer sex? These are a few questions I seek to find answers to in this paper. My general hypothesis is there has been a battle between condom ads and mass media, and currently the condoms are winning.
The History of Condoms - The condom has been a vital contraceptive and STD prevention tool for thousands of years. The earliest mentions of condoms are the stuff of legend, with an illustration of an ancient Egyptian man using a condom¡Xfor sexual or ritual reasons or both¡Xdating back more than 3,000 years. The oldest condoms date back to about 1640 A.D. and were discovered in Dudley Castle near Birmingham, England. Made of fish and animal intestine, they were likely used to prevent transmission of STDs. In the 18th century, the legendary lover Casanova used condoms made of linen, which he referred to as his ¡§English riding coat.¡¨ With the invention of rubber vulcanization in 1839, a U.S. contraceptive industry soon emerged, producing condoms, intrauterine devices (IUDs), vaginal sponges, and diaphragms. (amfAR, 2002)
Michael Wilke founder of Commercial Closet Association and conducted research on condom commercials and produced the following report. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, condom advertising was prohibited by the National Association of Broadcasters' (NAB) Code of Conduct. The first station to carry a condom commercial was KNTV, San Jose, which despite that code decided to carry a spot for Trojan in 1975. The brand's current manufacturer, Carter-Wallace, says the station's switchboard was inundated with calls, and the station then put the ad onto the evening news to solicit viewer opinion. Carter-Wallace says viewers were overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the commercial but the station decided against it. In 1979, the NAB Code was rescinded when the Justice Department opposed it in an antitrust lawsuit, but that decision had no significant impact on the level of condom advertising on TV. As concern about the AIDS epidemic grew during the 1980s, ABC ran a Public Service Announcement (PSA) about condoms in 1986. Under pressure from then Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, other networks followed the next year. Many of these PSAs were part of the "America Responds to AIDS" (ARTA) campaign. The ads were seen mostly by late-night viewers. Only 7 percent of the "ARTA" spots appeared during primetime television between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. (predominately during news shows), according to Broadcast Advertisers Reports. The remaining 69 percent of the "ARTA" PSAs were broadcast in the late-night hours between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. NBC's vice president of advertising standards and program compliance, Richard Gitter, said the network "anguished over these spots quite a while and eventually took the milder ones." A CBS executive recalled that...