Marketing Condoms to Teens is Ethical and Necessary

Marketing Condoms to Teens is Ethical and Necessary

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Is it ethical to market condoms to teenagers? Advertising catches the attention of everyone – both young and old – but seeking to “feast” on the most vulnerable – the young. With the young seeking adventure and wanting to learn and become experienced, they are captured by everything they see and hear, whether the information is ethical or unethical. Over the years, sex has become an important part of the media through advertising and sales in a world where sex is important. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American children will view an estimated 360,000 advertisements that have sexual innuendos on television before graduating from high school.
A line of condoms marketed towards teens makes critics wonder if they are conveying a message that condoms and sex are. Jimmie Hatz condoms hit the shelves in February of 2004. “Jimmie Hat” is an urban slang term for condom. According to the marketers of the condoms, Common Ground USA, they are just promoting safe sex.
     The marketing campaign targets the hip hop culture. The focus is primarily on minority communities where HIV and AIDS are spreading rapidly. "When you look at the numbers and the rate of infection continues to rise within the minority population, they're having sex," said Harry Terrell, CEO of Common Ground USA. "We say abstinence is the only way that you're going to be OK. But the fact of the matter is, we can't hide and think that they're going to stop having sex."
To grab the attention of their targeted audience, the condoms are named "Great Dane" and "Rottweiler" and come in shiny wrappers decked out with a cartoon dog wearing a thick gold chain. They also feature three flavors: grape, strawberry and banana. Many popular rappers have recorded songs that use the phrase "jimmie hats" to refer to condoms. Quotes like "For Players Puttin’ in Real Work" and "Protect Ya Neck" are also printed on the wrapper. Packaging aside, the success of Jimmie Hatz will depend on reactions from the younger consumers that the condom is targeting.
Terrell became interested in AIDS activism in 1996 after learning that a baseball player on a high school team he coached had been infected. Terrell has said that the condoms are a "full- blown effort on our part to save our community."
Critics of the condoms say that Common Ground’s marketing tactics are sending teens the wrong message.

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"I think they're basically doing what all media tries to do, which is to sell something, and teenagers are one of the biggest consumers" said Libby Gray, director of Project Reality, an abstinence-before-marriage advocacy group.
According to Jimmie Hatz website, their mission is to “increase awareness of the AIDS epidemic and decrease the rate of minority infection. Our goal is to always keep it fun and grassroots which enables us to pioneer the integration of condoms and “Hip Hop Kulture.” Their vision is “that the Jimmie Hatz Logo will become synonymous with responsible sexual behavior and adopted into the Hip Hop Kulture. We will achieve this by partnering with AIDS service organizations, educational programs, companies and entertainers in the music industry, and with products released bearing the Jimmie Hatz Logo.” The website goes on to say that “Common Ground USA is the only company in the world marketing condoms a.k.a. Jimmie Hatz exclusively to the highest at risk populations. Jimmie Hatz are unique and exclusively targeted for Urban Consumers.”
The facts are that the number of AIDS and HIV cases is increasing at an alarming rate and shows no sign of decline. African-Americans represent the highest number of affected followed by Hispanics. Teens are also catching the deadly disease at an alarming rate.
It has been reported that more than half of teenagers in the US are sexually active. Teens make up about one quarter of the 12 million cases of STD cases reported annually. Every year, about one in four sexually active teens contract an STD. At least half of all new HIV infections in the United States are among people under 25, and the majority of young people are infected sexually.
Terrell said his condoms are about awareness. "If you look at the numbers of teens infected with the HIV / AIDS virus and other STDs, they are through the roof," Terrell said. "People think we're promoting kids to have sex. We're not. We're saying, 'If you have to have sex, protect yourself, because one mistake could cost you your life.' "
Some critics of Jimmie Hatz condoms believe that teaching abstinence to teenagers would be a better alternative to teaching safe sex. While some of the nation's schools combine pro-abstinence lessons with information about contraception and safe sex, about one-third of schools opt for abstinence-only programs. Recent studies indicate that sex education programs in schools often emphasize abstinence from sexual activity as the only safe and moral choice for teenagers.
     A campaign to encourage teenagers to abstain from sex got under way when Congress authorized $50 million annually for five years to promote abstinence education. To qualify, state programs had to agree to teach the "unambiguous message" that sex before marriage is wrong. They were not allowed to include any positive information about contraception. Despite an initially rancorous debate in some states, all eventually applied for funding. So, in just five years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of schools that teach abstinence and the funding supports 700 programs. One of the best-known is "True Love Waits" where teenagers are asked to take a pledge, promising not to have sex until they are married. On an interesting note, one study found that teenagers who take a public vow to abstain from sex until they marry have the same rates of sexually transmitted diseases as those who do not.
     In my opinion, it is perfectly ethical to market condoms towards teens. As you walk down high school or even middle school hallways, you see more young teenage girls that are pregnant. Many of these girls knew the chances of getting pregnant without using a condom, but they didn’t care. According to Faye Wattleton, “the staggering rates and devastating consequences of teen pregnancy in America are well documented” (Wattleton 51). It seems clear that many of the girls are unaware of the results of having unprotected sexual intercourse.
      I also believe that more sex programs should be put in schools that emphasize protection instead of abstinence. I think about the teenagers out there that are too embarrassed to go into a store and buy a box of condoms. They get so flustered thinking of going into the store that they just do with out and end up paying for some really bad consequence that will affect them for the rest of their life. A YM survey states that “41% of teens don’t know why they didn’t use protection” (YM “Love”). Jimmie Hatz are trying to minimize the embarrassment a teen may feel when purchasing condoms.
     I believe that the argument that marketing condoms to teens makes them want to go out and have sex is ridiculous. It is similar to the argument that video games make kids go out and kill people. We cannot keep our kids in a bubble. They see sex everywhere—television shows, music videos, video games, etc. The teenage population has grown twice as fast as the overall population in the last decade, therefore increasing the marketing and advertising to teens. The average teenager probably watches at least five hours of commercial television messages a week. This estimate of media exposure doesn’t even include the countless printed ads or promotional messages seen in other places. David Leonhardt and Kathleen Kerwin state in their essay, “Hey
Kids, Buy This!” that, “Combining allowance, earnings, and gifts, kids 14 and under will directly spend an estimated $20 billion this year, and they will influence another $200 billion” (83). Ad designers perceive a need to shock, stand out, and grab consumers in new ways. The use of sex has been a popular choice by many designers, especially in targeting teens.
     In conclusion, marketing condoms to teenagers is not unethical. If teens are going to have sex—which they are—they should be protected. I believe that Jimmie Hatz are trying to send the message that it is okay for teens to be smart and protect themselves. Terrell recognized that in urban communities, HIV infections among young people are rising and he is trying to do something about it. He should be commended for his efforts.
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