June 28 (Bloomberg) -- This week a commercial set to Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On" started showing up on Facebook and other social-media sites. The Durex Performax Intense condom, the ad vows, "speeds her up" and "slows him down."
Determined to steal U.S. sales from Trojan -- Americans' go-to condom brand -- Durex owner Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc is inviting celebrity couples including Ice-T and Coco to a "Get In-Sync" marketing party and plans a barrage of radio and online ads. At stake is control of a category where U.S. sales topped $430 million in the year through June 10, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a market-research firm in Chicago.
While Durex has become a generic term for condom in much of Europe, the brand has only a 15 percent share of the U.S. market. Church & Dwight Co.'s Trojan dominates with 69 percent of sales. At $33.6 million, Trojan's U.S. advertising budget was about 26 times as big as Durex's last year, according to Nielsen.
"They're up against the dominant leader," said Jack Trout, president of Trout & Partners Ltd., a brand-consulting firm based in Greenwich, Connecticut. "That's a big problem."
Condoms are one of the oldest products around. Evidence of condom use dates back to 1220 B.C. in Egypt, according to Durex's website. Since then, materials from linen to fish bladders have been used as prophylactics until rubber was introduced in 1843, only to be succeeded by latex in 1930, according to Durex.
Still, the modern condom market is in the midst of a transformation, going beyond the utilitarian functions of protecting against pregnancy and disease to a kind of entertainment product. That's set the stage for growth. Condom sales gained 8.1 percent in the 52 weeks through June 10, with sales in the related category of so-called sexual-enhancement devices, rising 21 percent to $15.7 million in the same period, according to SymphonyIRI. The firm's figures don't include Wal- Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer.
Slough, England-based Reckitt Benckiser bought Durex parent SSL International Plc in late 2010 for about 2.5 billion pounds ($3.9 billion).
"We have aggressive expansion plans for the Durex brand here in the U.S.," said Kevin Harshaw, Reckitt Benckiser's marketing director of hygiene, personal care and sexual well- being.
Reckitt Benckiser's shares gained 6.2 percent this year in London this year through yesterday, while Church & Dwight climbed 19 percent in New York. Reckitt Benckiser fell 3 percent to 3,277 pence at 2:38 p.m. in London, and Church & Dwight slid 0.7 percent to $53.91 in New York.
Durex marketing is determinedly cheeky in the U.K. -- fornicating rubber balloons; people swooning over vibrating power drills -- and Reckitt Benckiser is betting that similar ads will play well with Americans. The company is tripling its U.S. marketing budget this year to $15 million.
In the U.S., Durex is targeting what Harshaw says is a forgotten group of people aged 25 to 39 who are in relationships. The brand also is looking for growth in a broader market it calls "sexual well-being" that includes such sex toys as Durex's new "Ring of Bliss Vibrating Ring."
Among the top products Durex will push is its Performax Intense line, a condom with a lubricant that delays the man's climax, according to the company.
Durex is working with what it calls "sexfluencers" and other social-media mavens to promote the brand.
A Durex Facebook campaign this year urged participants to nominate their state's official sex position and the brand has sponsored 5,000 "Durex Girl Talk" house-party events, where attendees can score samples and coupons. The company last year conducted a "Get a Room" contest -- in which couples shared their sex stories on Facebook for a chance to win a two-night stay at a New York hotel -- hosted by Bridget Marquardt of the "Girls Next Door" reality show.
Trojan is not sitting back. The brand is pushing its own Trojan Vibrations line, introduced in 2010, including an online video promising a vibrator "so good, it will blow your hair back." The brand also sponsored a demonstration at the Consumer Electronics show last year.
While Trojan isn't doing anything specific in response to the Durex campaign, "we are always looking for new ways to engage with our fans through a number of channels," Nyla Saleh, a spokeswoman for Princeton, New Jersey-based Church & Dwight who works for Edelman, said in an e-mail.
Still, getting Americans to switch brands may be difficult. Americans tend not to spend a lot of time comparison-shopping condoms, said Jiri Kulik, a former U.S. marketing chief who now heads Reckitt Benckiser's Latin America unit.
"They take whatever they see," he said, "and then run away."