The advent of cheap, remote-controlled UAVs for commercial use is a source of public debate. On the one hand, UAVs (aka “drones”) present innovative opportunities to deliver products to consumers. Yet, there are safety concerns (e.g., malfunctioning drones dropping from the sky onto some poor fellow’s head or disruption to manned-aircraft), as well as privacy considerations. The UAV topic is an important discussion for the country that has implications for law enforcement, emergency management, public safety, and commerce.
To be sure, companies are already finding ways to boost their public image by developing plans for using UAVs in their operations. Amazon made headlines in 2013 when it announced an ambitious, long-term project to deliver products by UAV. I don’t begrudge Amazon or others from putting forward new ideas that have the added benefit of business marketing. What I do take issue with, however, is when a company, under the guise of public health and altruism, capitalizes on an important national issue to line their pockets.
b condoms, prophylactic manufacturer and ostensibly pro-social health company, I’m talking about you.
This company claims to have manufactured the world’s best condom, and to be fair, they do appear to be genuinely interested in supporting public health with their product. However, a recent, blatantly opportunistic press release throws all that good will into question. The press release states that b condoms is seeking “special exemption to current rules” from the FAA to use UAVs for a “Homeland Security Program.” It offers troubling statistics on HIV/AIDS rates in rural areas, as well as teenage pregnancies, and seeks to address these alarming trends by delivering condoms via drones. On the face of it, it seems like a simple equation. People getting sick plus babies making babies equals more condoms needed.
What the press release does not say, however, is whether more condoms will answer the challenge of sickness and teen pregnancy. The only time this critical element is even hinted at is with mention of “geographic isolation” among a list of causes for the public ills. This item is immediately followed by non-supply issues (“lack of transportation, lack of information, limited testing and low population density”). More condoms will not fix any of those legitimate challenges.
Wherever people live, there are roads and drug stores, which make condom delivery and access possible. The likes of Trojan and its competitors have not ignored the rural consumer market. I know this, in part, because I have lived in rural areas. (They have color TVs and combustion engines, too.)
So if the public health challenges are not the result of absent condoms, it must be that lovers are refusing to use them. This makes b condoms’ argument for UAV use totally irrelevant and instead makes their campaign smack of misleading marketing.
Why would b condoms think that using drones to take their product to rural areas would fix the public health issues it seeks to address? I’m not sure they do think that. Instead, this “homeland security program” offers two evident benefits to b condoms while providing no credible benefit to the public.
1. One of a company’s greatest expenses is logistics. Moving products through the supply chain brings heavy costs in energy, human labor, and processes. By every measure, a UAV is cheaper than more traditional transportation methods (like trucks, trains and planes). By using UAVs, b condoms could reduce its costs and consequently increase profit and competitiveness.
2. If you put the words “FAA,” “drone” and “homeland security” in a press release title, you’re going to get coverage. Those are golden search engine optimization words. Associating these ideas with their product allows b condoms to raise its public exposure. (A note to whoever is running b condoms’ communications crew: Sloppy, misleading media relations like yours might get you some coverage, such as this blog post, but it is probably not the kind of attention you wanted.)
So which makes more sense – that b condoms is so concerned with public health that it absolutely must jump into the UAV debate, for the sake of the rural folks languishing in prophylactic deserts? OR that b condoms wants to reduce costs and capitalize on a news-worthy issue?
Do rural areas need more education? Certainly, and that’s an important cause. Should the FAA consider exemptions from current rules when UAVs can genuinely help the public? I believe it should. But leveraging an important public issue to hock a product smells like something else the farm-laden countryside already has plenty of: BS.