Friday, April 06, 2007

The New York Times
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April 5, 2007

Wrapped in Subway Logos, Free City Condom Is a Hit

Seductive forces abound in New York City: music, bars, food, money, power. And the No. 1 train, of course, though some people think the D train is really hot.

Subways and sex? Apparently so.

In just a month, the city gave away five million of its new subway-themed condoms, officials said yesterday. Lest you read past that number unimpressed, consider that that was about two condoms for every man living in the city — more than the city distributed in all of 2003.

This condom was the first designed just for the city, in a wrapper with lettering mimicking the logos of subway lines. First released on Valentine’s Day, the new condom exceeded all expectations, with five million sent out by mid-March.

“I think the key thing is this branding effort,” said Adam Karpati, the assistant city health commissioner in charge of H.I.V. and AIDS programs. “It’s our own brand, it’s a New York City-specific thing, and people really respond.”

The city began giving away condoms in 1971, but for decades they were available only in city-run health clinics and from H.I.V. service groups. But a few years ago, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene began recruiting bars, restaurants, block associations, theaters, shops, doctors’ offices and even churches to hand out the condoms.

Last year, with the help of 877 such partners, the department distributed 18 million condoms, compared with about 4 million distributed in 2003. Since it announced the city’s own brand, promoted by an ad campaign, 500 new groups have joined the effort, Dr. Karpati said.

Now, the subway condom has led the city into temptation — the temptation to use as many suggestive puns as it can.

The city’s posters advertising the condoms proclaim “we’ve got you covered,” and “New York’s hottest new wrapper.” A press release yesterday said, “the rubber is hitting the road,” although it probably should have said “railroad.”

So will the department choose a new, sexy theme to evoke the city’s peculiar appeal? Bridges and tunnels? Bagels?

“People have made that suggestion to us,” Dr. Karpati said. “The possibilities are endless, and so are the double entendres.”