Salad Founder Aruna Chawla on the importance of sex education in selling condoms

Aruna Chawla

To create a judgement-free shopping experience for condom users, 26-year-old Aruna Chawla started Salad, redefining contraceptive marketing along the way.

Condom brands often focus on pleasure while marketing their products. For years now, it has been their way to try and up the adoption rate of condoms. A big part of the issue is the lack of social accessibility. People are hesitant in buying condoms because they do not want to reveal themselves as sexual beings. Enter Salad — a brand that seeks to create a space where one can buy condoms without hesitation. Started by Aruna Chawla, Salad is a digital-first condom brand with a sex ed-led social media strategy.

Condoms are the cheapest contraceptive in the market and, they protect not only from STIs but are also not non-evasive. They do not affect hormones and are easily discardable. You do not have to visit a gynecologist for it and it is not an irreversible procedure. They are also the only contraception that has last-mile availability. Yet, people are not using condoms.

As a Buyer Psychologist, Chawla was intrigued by this phenomenon. She started Salad trying to understand why people are not buying condoms and to do her but towards increasing that adoption rate.

Aruna Chawla, Founder, Salad tells us: “With Salad, we want to create a shopping experience for condoms that is judgment-free, safe, secure, and where one could educate themselves. The goal of Salad is to create a space where buying a condom is not a nightmare.”

Read excerpts from our candid conversation.

Could you tell us a bit about Salad’s overall social media presence and strategy?

For a brand like ours, imagery is everything. For condoms in general, as an industry, a lot of focus is on the imagery. We had a specific goal in mind on how we wanted to use our packaging and assets. Instagram has worked the best for us because it is a visual-first platform. Also, here, we get to connect with the new-age generation. Much of our audiences are not active on Facebook. They use Instagram to not just stay in touch with people but also to learn.

We can do performance marketing or any other kind of marketing we want, but everything has to focus on building the brand.

If we have followers who are not sexually active at the moment, the goal is they would choose our products whenever they do become sexually active.

By talking about Salad and what it’s like to be a woman founder, I am also building my personal brand.

What is it like to be a young condom brand?

The industry is small because there is a huge barrier to entry. Condoms are a distribution-first medical commodity that requires a lot of investment. Condom brands need so much trust to be bought and used the first time because there are real consequences — you could become pregnant unexpectedly or catch an STD. Whenever someone goes to a pharmacist to be a condom, they ask for a specific brand. People do not test with condoms. So, a brand like ours needs to be memorable. Digital-first is imperative for it.

When it comes to using condoms, there is a learning curve. There is a leap of faith that you need to take. That kind of trust needs to be built over time. Brand marketing is key to this.

Also Read: Marketing condoms in India is a tricky business: Joy Chatterjee, Mankind Pharma

What are some of the challenges of promoting contraceptives online? Are there some things you have to keep in mind?

Because it’s essentially sexual content, social media platforms will have to follow and act according to the IT rules and regulations and the Indian Penal Code for nudity/obscenity. If anything overly sexual or pornographic is shared, the post gets flagged and, the platform can shut your account. All condom brands have to be very cautious about what they put on social media. Our sex-ed-first approach makes us different. We try to make it engaging while talking about your legal rights and how the law deals with you if you are sexually active. It is an advantage we have here.

Salad’s social media strategy doesn’t seem to focus on pleasure like other condom brands. Could you tell us more about it?

In a large percentage of cases, contraception is decided by the man but used by the woman. Women have to depend on the man to get the condom. When we make our communication pleasure-focussed, we need to ask ourselves: Who is being pleasured? You would find that often the focus is on the man’s pleasure. We do focus on pleasure too, but it’s not our key concern.

When you look at contraceptive users in government reports and other documents, it only focuses on family planning. We forget that condoms are the only contraception that prevents STIs. If you have multiple sexual partners or are using sex toys, you should be using condoms. Condoms are not used only to prevent pregnancy. You use condoms because you want to safeguard yourself against STIs and want to be clean, regardless of who your partner is — whether a toy or a human being.

We want to move away from the traditional idea of sex. We want to talk about pleasure but in a healthy way. If we talk about sex toys and condoms, we are essentially focusing on self-pleasure. What can be more pleasurable than that? 

How do you measure RoI for Salad on social media?

We started only in June. We do not have a quantitative way to measure RoI at the moment. The long-term goal is to build a community and then tap into that community to understand various aspects of intimate/sexual health and wellness needs. As a brand, we will make profits or actually get that return on investments when we get into distribution, when we are available in pharmacies. Very honestly — until we are just online, we won’t make any money with this product line. We do plan to get there. It will take so much more investment!

What is the importance of influencer marketing for Salad?

Influencers would be hesitant in opening up about their sex life. No matter how outspoken they are, a lot of influencers shy away from it. Our best bet would be the people who are already talking about these issues. The challenge then is that there are so few of them that all brands want to work with them. There is an overload — which is why, instead of influencer marketing, we are focussing on brand collabs.

We are also going to focus on recruiting campus ambassadors. It will be about tapping onto real-world conversations in tighter circles, even if they are offline. And not influencers in the sense that we think about now.

Our business structure is such that 15% of our profits are committed to sex education in schools and colleges in India. We have a sex educator on board.

We are building strategic courses on topics such as how parents can talk to their children and teenagers about sex. These would be very strategic collaborations when they end up happening.