Condom maker Durex caused controversy in South Africa after a Twitter campaign of edgy sex jokes included a tweet that supported sexual abuse.

The campaign was run by the company’s South Africa team which sought to raise awareness of its Twitter account using a number jokes of questionable taste, which included the following tweet:

Why did God give men penises? So they’d have at least one way to shut a woman up. #DurexJoke

The message provoked a strong response from many, including a leading feminist group, who criticised it for the reference to sexual abuse, which remains a significant issue in South Africa where, as the Global Times reminds us, a recent report found that more than one in four men surveyed admitted to raping at least one person.

The controversial tweet was initially defended by the company, whose Twitter profile states that it “supports non-violence against women”, but it later issued a series of apologies through the microblogging service:

We’re really sorry for causing offence today, not intentional. We believe in the rights of woman and safe sex. Thanks for putting us right.

As a brand respected by millions, we wld like 2 take this opportunity 2 apologize 4 the jokes posted on our timeline yesterday #DurexApology

Apologies go out to @FeministsSA, but also thanks. You reminded us that rape and violence against women is still a major concern in SA.

The joke was just one of many controversial messages that saw the #Durexjoke hashtag became a trending topic in South Africa, but despite being a popular talking point the campaign received a mixed response. Some on Twitter joined in and submitted their own jokes, but a significant number of responses criticised the company for its edgy approach and the tone of the messages which alienated many within its target audience.

One Twitter user suggested that the company was focusing its humour on the Neanderthal man, while others labelled the campaign rude and was “bombarding”users. Indeed, the content and timing of the jokes is particularly questionable as they were made during 16 days, an international campaign to fight violence against women and children.

Durex is by no means the first firm to court controversy by putting controversial messages on Twitter, Kenneth Cole’s Egypt-related tweet is arguably the most notorious example, but the unsavoury approach of the campaign appears to have caused it more harm than good in South Africa.

Last week, a Qantas social media campaign receive widespread negative feedback for its disasterous timing and message. The Australian airline’s competition to promote its luxury service was hijacked by a large number of responses that mocked its reliability, after a recent disagreement with workers forced it to ground its planes.