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I read an interesting story about how South Africa is attempting to curb the spread of AIDS by making condoms available to students. On the surface, the plan appears to be working, as the condoms are very popular with the intended audience.

But there's a twist, as many of the students aren't using the condoms as the government intended. Instead, the kids found out that these free condoms do an excellent job of cleaning their CDs. That's right, apparently the materials found on the latex do an excellent job of filling in any scratches on the CDs, and make them play like new.
"I use them because they really work," Junaid Sataar, a Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University student, explains. "I heard about it from friends and didn't believe it, but when I tried it I was amazed. My old scratched CDs were actually playing."
But that's not music to everyone's ears. AIDS activists and campus health officials are none too happy that their marketing has been hijacked, and are speaking out against the practice.
"This is not what condoms are for and this is not why we supply them," senior manager of Campus Health Services, Sister Antoinette Goosen, said. "We provide condoms to prevent unplanned pregnancy. They are available in university bathrooms and hostels, and they are provided to ensure responsibility .... and not for students to 'wax' their CDs."
Marketers rarely react favorably to their market altering their message, and this is no exception. But I think South African officials are overlooking an important point here.
Any student that was too embarrassed to take the condoms previously, can now tell anyone that might ask, that the condoms are to clean their CDs. Which means that in the end, more students will have more condoms. Some or many of them might go toward cleaning CDs, but since the condoms are now more popular, it also means that students are now more likely to have a supply on hand the next time they have sex.
Which was the government's goal to begin with. See... losing control of your marketing to your community isn't always the worst thing in the world.

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image of Mack Collier

Mack Collier is a social-media strategist based in Alabama. He helps companies build programs and initiatives that let them better connect with their customers and advocates. His podcast, The Fan-Damn-Tastic Marketing Show, discusses ways that brands can turn customers into fans. His first book, Think Like a Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans, was published in April 2013 by McGraw-Hill.

Twitter: @MackCollier

LinkedIn: Mack Collier