NYC plans to design own condom brand

Marc Santora New York Times Feb. 19, 2006 12:00 AM

NEW YORK - The corporate branding of stadiums and sporting events has become routine. When the Bloomberg administration took office, it applied that corporate mentality to the city itself. To begin with, hats and shirts were emblazoned with the logos of the Police and Fire Departments. Now, taking the concept of branding to a new and quite intimate level, a New York City condom will soon be available.

In a statement released last week, the Health Department said it was "developing the first NYC-branded condom, to be released in coming months."

Sandra Mullin, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, explained that the effort was more about packaging than branding, providing the department with a better way to measure the effectiveness of its free condom distribution.

"We wanted to develop condom packaging that was noticeable and memorable so that we can later track the effectiveness of our distribution," she said.

"We also aim to use the packaging to promote condom use and awareness."

Under the Bloomberg administration, the Health Department has greatly expanded condom distribution in an effort to reduce sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV. In June, the city created the Web-based "Free Condom Initiative" to provide community and social service organizations with condoms.

Since the program was introduced, the city has distributed more than 1 million condoms a month, according to officials.

Dr. Thomas Friedman, city health commissioner, said in last week's statement, "A condom can save your life."

Still, some religious groups and social conservatives have long objected to aggressive condom promotion by government agencies, arguing that it promotes promiscuity.

When told about the Health Department's plan, Michael Long, chairman of the Conservative Party of New York State said, "Isn't it a sad commentary on how the government wastes money?"

While health officials stressed that they did not plan to use the condoms to raise funds, Long said that even if the city did not raise money, it would be promoting a certain lifestyle.

City officials said that a New York condom was not a part of the broader branding campaign that has been touted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg many times since he was elected. For example, the city receives a royalty from the sale of products that legally use the Police and Fire Department logos.

But, in the end, whatever the design of the package for the condom, it would be uniquely identified with the city, although exactly how, whether it would include a logo or an iconic city image, has yet to be determined.

The statement from the Health Department seemed to catch many City Hall officials off guard.

"This project is in the very early stages of development," said Jordan Barowitz, a spokesman for the mayor.

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