by John Trybus, Managing Director

The term “innovative” is overused.

Innovative nonprofits. Innovative companies. Innovative people. Innovation overload!

To me, innovation at its simplest means developing new and creative solutions to real problems and then proving that social impact or change took place. Innovation means different. Innovation means proof of impact.

For these very reasons, today’s social strategist Phil Harvey and DKT International, the global development organization he founded, rightly deserve the title innovator in using social marketing to provide safe and affordable options for family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention.

Phil has been a leader in social marketing for decades and has a very intriguing career journey. Prior to his role at DKT International, he co-founded the famous international development firm, Population Services International (PSI) and created Adam & Eve, an adult pleasure company whose profits help fund Phil’s philanthropic pursuits. Phil was among the first to establish a mail order business for condoms, which was illegal at the time.

“If you’re not passionate about something I think there’s a big element missing from your life,” Phil explains of his passion for cause-based work. “I think it’s an ingredient of a healthy human being to really care about something or some things. It has never occurred to me that there is a choice about that.”

Here’s a preview of Phil’s social marketing principles:

  • Though shall not patronize. Phil holds this principle among the keys to social marketing success. “People who buy our brands of condoms don’t think about themselves as beneficiaries. They’re customers,” he explains. “They’re buying a product with their own hard earned money and that to me is an important aspect to this approach. Everyone is equal.” 
  • The challenge yet importance of metrics. Social marketing means behavior change, which is among the hardest and most time-consuming ways to bring about social change. “It’s very difficult to develop metrics that tell you how much of an impact that you’re having on a culture or society because there are so many intangible indicators,” Phil explains. “But when you’re in the business of providing family planning services, the number of people who use those services can be calculated in a variety of ways.” The organization’s impact is clear and tangible: DKT sold 650 million condoms around the globe in 2011. That’s enough condoms to circle the globe three times! But more importantly, DKT served more than 22 million couples worldwide and estimates that its work averted 7 million unwanted pregnancies, 1.4 million abortions and 12,000 maternal deaths in 2011.

Underlying the above two principles is Phil’s belief that creativity must be used to break through the clutter and drive impact. Here a few examples of creative innovation in action (and more on DKT’s website here):

  • Use of GPS and technology. DKT Brazil’s Condom Tester Program website gives users a platform to comment on condom use and tag their location via GPS. The result? More than 100,000 website visits, 3,000 registered participants and 3,000 stories submitted.
  • Unusual flavors garner attention (and use): From durian flavored condoms in Southeast Asia to coffee flavored ones in Ethiopia, these unusual condoms not only entertain but drive usage rates in large part thanks to the novelty.
  • Youth marketers: DKT’s Young Marketers program employs youth throughout Ethiopia who have driven sales of more than 2 million condoms throughout 185 clubs in 150 cities.

In short, DKT International’s approach to increasing condom usage is often to use the power of humor, entertainment and targeted engagement to drive activity around a normally taboo topic.

Listen to my interview with social strategist Phil Harvey to learn more about the creative side of social marketing and how that creativity leads to innovation and documented behavioral change within DKT International.