NEW YORK — Condom makers have found business can be very good even if the television networks refuse to sell them advertising time.
Retail sales of condoms rose by nearly a third to about $200 million in 1987, industry sources estimate. Sales had been rising at a single-digit rate in each of the previous five years.
The sales increase occurred although industry insiders estimate that only about $5 million was spent last year advertising condoms in all media.
The manufacturers say a major reason for the sales gains has been the intense media coverage of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, also known as AIDS. Public health experts have repeatedly cited condoms as one way to prevent the spread of the deadly virus, which can be transmitted during sexual intercourse and is blamed for more than 29,200 deaths.
As condoms became a more frequent topic of everyday conversation, the condom makers have found new sales outlets such as grocery stores that are willing to sell them. They have also designed more attractive packaging.
Low Ad Demand
A year ago, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop made an issue of the networks' refusal to sell time for contraceptive advertising when he said he favored running condom ads on the networks as part of the fight against AIDS.
The condom makers still maintain they should have the right to advertise on network television but aren't pushing for network clearance.
And some of the local television stations and the magazines that have agreed to carry the ads say they haven't seen much demand for ad time and space anyway.
Koop first drew attention to condoms in the fall of 1986 when he said the devices offer "the best protection against infection right now, barring abstinence."
One condom manufacturer, Ansell-Americas, the Tinton Falls, N.J.-based unit of the Australian firm Ansell International, quoted him in print and broadcast ads. The ads for its LifeStyles brand also showed a pretty woman who said, "I enjoy sex, but I'm not ready to die for it."
Other makers also developed ads. Ramses was pitched as "the take-care condom" in an ad that showed a college student getting a packet of condoms in the mail from his father. Mentor ads use a photo of a woman who was quoted as saying, "I never thought I'd buy a condom."
By early 1987, some leading magazines that had once refused to accept ads for contraceptives agreed to take condom ads that stressed their role in preventing the spread of AIDS and other diseases.
"We changed our position because the climate had changed," said Lou Slovinsky, a spokesman for Time Inc., which publishes Time, People and Sports Illustrated. "It was more acceptable to talk about condoms given the clear and present danger that venereal diseases are presenting today."
Mark Klein, vice president of marketing for Carter-Wallace Inc., the New York-based concern that makes the category-leading Trojans brand of condoms, said magazines generally have liberalized their policies on condom ads.
"A couple of years ago there were maybe 10 magazines that took our ads and now there are over 100. Very few magazines won't take our ads," he said.
Several local television stations, including some owned by the networks but freed to make their own decisions on condom ads, have offered to run them.
Nancy Pushee, a spokeswoman for WXYZ-TV in Detroit, said calls to her station were 2-to-1 against condom ads before the station ran its first condom ad in January, 1987.
But, she added: "Each day we ran the spot, opinion became more positive."
Condom ads ran early last year on WRTV in Indianapolis without triggering any negative reaction from viewers, station manager John Proffitt said.
But both stations report that since they ran the initial ads, no condom maker has ever asked them to run anything else.
The networks say a significant portion of their audiences may object to ads for a contraceptive on religious or moral grounds, and that the issue is covered extensively in their news shows and in public service ads.
"You can't separate the moral issue from the health issue when it comes to a condom, and we are serving a variety of audiences out there," said Dom Giofre, a spokesman for the NBC Television Network.