When I helped make safe sex more available

The take-one brochure I wrote. Email me for a free PDF to share with friends and neighbors.

Now for a modest account of the historic role I played in bringing condoms out into broad daylight, or rather the cool white fluorescent lighting of convenience stores. This is a true story: I did breakthrough condom work. Make that breakthrough work in condoms. In the advertising sense, I should add.

It was the late 1980s, a time when family planning sections were few. Condom perusal was an unknown shopping concept, and young men lived in fear of having to ask the adult at the pharmacy cash register to show them the condoms. Then along came the AIDS epidemic, and just like that merchants everywhere became pro prophylactics display.

At the time, I was doing freelance work for Williford, Winstead, James, a small ad agency in Raleigh. WWJ had a niche focus: convenience stores, or c-stores in the parlance of the trade. If a company wanted to get its products into c-stores, WWJ had the expertise to do it.

Carter-Wallace, Inc., the maker of Trojan® brand condoms, wanted to make a splash in c-stores nationwide, and they engaged WWJ to create advertising and sales-support materials promoting the profit potential the leading condom brand offered, plus the small-footprint, countertop merchandiser unit they had designed to tempt the titillated, impulse buyer.

An advertising career can be full of painful disappointments, e.g., this brilliant but doomed print-ad concept for the condom merchandiser unit.

Kristie Freeman, WWJ’s art director, and I developed a sales brochure—“Trojan condoms have come out from under the counter” its cover proclaimed—and a small take-one brochure for a side pocket on the merchadiser. After answering the pressing question of why to choose the Trojan brand, the copy went into “Instructions for condom use. (Reading level: third-grade, stupid about sex.) Step 10—Carter-Wallace wanted to be thorough—read as follows: Remember—never reuse a condom. I won’t even begin to guess at the number of unwanted pregnancies that admonition saved.

I’m proud that I helped bring condoms out of the dark, making safe sex available to more. So proud that I believe a highway historical marker near our neighborhood entrance might be justified. Surprisingly, the Commonwealth of Virginia has not gotten back to me on my application. I’ve heard that some state offices are severely understaffed. Probably a waiting list for historical markers, too, I imagine. If so, I hope my offer to write (or at least collaborate) on the marker’s text moves me closer to the front of the queue.


  1. George, I do not believe that you have not been adequately rewarded for your selfless service to mankind, or should I say womankind. It would appear that you have played no small role in reducing the world’s population, particularly in North Carolina. Virginia should indeed erect (I use that word advisedly) an historical marker, in the shape of a banana, at the entrance to your neighborhood.

    • Now Lynne, you know the Commonwealth has one and only one historical marker design. Then again, you do work in state government and may be able to arouse interest (minor joke not intended) on my behalf. Keep me posted.

  2. George, I remember it well! I still have some of the brochures. Would you like me to send you a few copies so you can proved to everyone we really did this! I think we won a local Addy for some of that work…

    Great to see you’ve still got a way with words!


  3. Kristie! Freeman! Plaga, your married name! Great to reconnect after those storied condom-selling days of yore. I think people probably believe I did that work. Strangely, though, no one has asked for a PDF of that brochure. I know! Hard to understand why; it was a generous offer: a copy of a piece of (contraception) history. People can be so strange at times.

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