Ask any dude about his first time getting a pack of condoms and it will likely have taken place during his teenage years and involved sweaty palms, the all-revealing fluorescent lights of a drug store, and a good friend of his parents standing behind him in line. Similarly, ask sexually active grown-up men about their thoughts slipping on a rubber while they’re rounding third and most will talk about it like they would a trip to the dentist’s office: They know it is the right thing to do, but just don’t ask them to be happy about it. And that’s a dumb and dangerous perspective when you consider the risks of pregnancy and STDs.
Enter Santa Barbara’s Zac Mazzotta. A former professional race car driver, single dad, and unabashed lover of females, Mazzotta’s mission is simple: to make condoms cool. Or, as he puts it, “We want to make it so if you don’t put one on when you’re between the sheets, you’re out of your skull.” To that end, Mazzotta founded Bravo Condoms in 2007 and, in the short time since, has taken the safe sex industry by storm.
Like it or not, the super-sexing of America’s youth has been a undeniable element of 21st century America, perhaps typified by a then-teenaged, hip-thrusting Britney Spears singing “I’m not that innocent.” While marketing execs, moviemakers, TV writers, and pop stars have been quick studies to this moral shift, the all-too-often last line of defense for sexually active young people-condoms-have been woefully, and perhaps dangerously, behind the times. That is to say, in the words of Mazzotta, longstanding love glove heavyweights like Trojan and Lifestyle have largely remained “sterile, boring, uncool, and not my life at all” products, designed and marketed to turn people off.
Offering an extreme sports-based advertising antidote to this, combined with a unique type of latex that he personally traveled the world over to find, Mazzotta has steered Santa Barbara-based Bravo from industry newbie to international critical acclaim. And it’s all the more remarkable when considered in light of Mazzotta’s admission that “it wasn’t too long ago that I didn’t know anything about condoms other than how to put them on.” Last month, one of the nation’s leading condom reviewer’s, condomdepot.com, named Bravo not only “The Best New Condom of 2009” but also ranked them as one of “The Top 10 Condoms in the World.” In dishing out the awards, the site raved, “Bravo condoms are not only one of the highest quality sensitive condoms we have ever tried, but they also have a great packaging design that is easily the best in the business.”
Ironically, it was a night when he didn’t practice safe sex that started the 28-year-old Mazzotta down the unusual path of becoming a prophylactic visionary. Living an international lifestyle of fast cars, fast women, and fun times, Mazzotta, who prides himself on being a lifelong safe-sex advocate, “slipped up one night” and his world changed forever. Though he now describes the birth of his daughter as “an absolute blessing,” it meant something markedly different at the time. With fatherhood just around the corner, Mazzotta left the dangers of high-speed racing in the rearview mirror (a decision that was expedited after a brutal crash and resulting knee injury in 2003). He moved back home to the Monterey area to try and make a go of it with his daughter’s mother and provide a stable life for his child as a carpenter. One night shortly thereafter, finding himself in a particularly critical and bitter mood, the young father stopped off at a convenience store to pick up some condoms and a six-pack of adult beverages on his way from work. Staring at a rack of bland and boring condom packages, Mazzotta had his epiphany. “I saw that Trojan box with its ‘#1 for 85 years’ claim and it just got me heated,” he remembered. “I mean, how can that be, almost 100 years and nobody has come up with anything better?”
A seed had been planted, but it wasn’t until he realized the implications for his daughter and her friends coming of age in a world where members of the opposite sex are less than enthused about wearing a jimmy cap that Mazzotta dove headlong into his quest to revolutionize the relationship between consumers and condoms. First up were hours of online research and phone calls to distributors and manufacturers. Then came a different kind of research in the form of trips to latex factories in places like Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Africa as he hunted for the perfect blend of strength and sensitivity. The search, oddly enough, ended just outside Bangkok in Thailand where Mazzotta found a small “high tech” factory making the exact type of latex he had been looking for.
From there, he spent two years navigating the rigors and regulations of the federal government’s Food and Drug Administration and the red tape that surrounds the importing of “medical devices” into the United States. Though frustrating, the delay allowed Mazzotta to perfect his advertising campaign and allowed Bravo to hit the ground running once the hurdles were cleared. In an unprecedented move-and something that has raised more than a few eyebrows from conservative-leaning folks-Bravo has aimed itself squarely at a youth-based marketplace. In addition to shrewd marketing tactics such as including the brand’s trademark star-eyed lion logo on stickers and a handy condom trash bag in the product’s packaging, Bravo also sponsored professional athletes such as surfers Peter Mel and Holly Beck and helped promote everything from bull-riding events to world-record motocross jumps.
The inside of the Bravo box even folds out to reveal a scrapbook-style collage of lifestyle shots-Mazzotta’s actual photos-that recall an MTV take on a SoCal beach party. Add to that full-fledged contribution campaigns to a wide variety of AIDS charities and events and you get a refreshingly unorthodox and immediately successful business model.
“We are just trying to take away all the stigmas attached with buying these things.” explains Mazzotta, before adding, “It’s about time we be honest about who is having unprotected sex and the best way to reach them. The 1950s are over.”