New Awareness Campaign From Legacy Health Services Uses Sex To Sell An Important HIV-Prevention Message

By | March 2, 2015

This story references an earlier Montrose District article about a pharmaceutical regimen, which has been approved by the CDC as a pre-exposure prophylaxis commonly referred to as PrEP (though condoms are always strongly advocated in addition to these types of methods). Legacy Community Health Services has been at the forefront in promoting this HIV prevention tool and will soon launch an awareness campaign about PrEP’s benefits for the communities most at risk for HIV infections. 

Maya Ford (center), discusses the campaign with marketing team members Brian Block (left) and Kimberly Paulus (right). Credit: e-Vision 1 Productions

There’s nothing clinical about sex in the real world. It can be a touchy subject, an embarrassing conversation or a passing glance between two people, but when it comes to actual human behavior, sex is usually just sex. The marketing team at Legacy Community Health Services (1415 California St.) recognizes the gap between current technical, scientific literature on an HIV prevention tool commonly known as PrEP (the current option being prescription drug Truvada) and heat-of-the-moment encounters where sex — and potential HIV transmission — really happens. Taking matters into their own hands, Legacy is closing that gap the best way they know how: Symbols and slang.

Armed with a significant grant from the manufacturer of PrEP drug Truvada, Gilead Sciences, Inc., the Legacy marketing team is powering full steam ahead on an innovative campaign they hope will raise rates of PrEP use in an overall attempt to lower or eradicate HIV transmissions in Houston and beyond.

“Legacy’s marketing team is developing different social media tactics,” says Ciandra Jackson, Legacy’s director of communications. “They’re also going to do some different banners for ‘hook-up’ type apps, many of them targeted to the LGBT community like Grindr. We’ll also do some advertising on YouTube. We got a fairly substantial grant, so we’re able to do things we weren’t able to do with our own money. For sure, we’re going to have a main PrEP website and some billboards. The really cool thing about this is that we wanted to get people’s attention, so we didn’t want to do the traditional campaign.”

“We have decided to frame the conversation less around the scientific vernacular and more around street language,” says Ford. “One thing we identified is that symbology means a heck of a lot and symbols really cross cultures. They cross boundaries, language, gender, age, and we wanted to leverage that. What we’ve got in the campaign are common terms for sex.”

Some euphemisms in the campaign like “getting lucky” are more universally known while other campaign spots use slang specific to a gay male audience like “Looking?” which is code on “hook-up” apps for what Ford says is, “Are you ready? I’m ready.” Other ads will integrate words like “raw,” which popularly refers to unprotected sex in the African American community.

The universal language comes in when pictorial symbols are paired with each euphemism. While the creative team is still finalizing details, examples include a piece of steak coupled with the term “raw” or a visual of shag carpet attached to the ad for “shagging,” a construction site with a giant hook and crane for “hooking up.” While the images still need to be tested before they’re implemented, the final goal remains the same: Capturing the attention of an at-risk audience, and doing it in a way that translates to real life.

“The premise is to take the conversation out of the rhetoric, in a sense that PrEP is about making sure that people understand that this is your sexual health,” says Ford. “It’s also highly effective. It can be used regardless of a partner’s desire to use condoms or other HIV prevention methods that are offered. This allows the individual to take ownership. It’s your sexual right. It’s your sexual freedom.”

This freedom is essentially the heart of the message Ford and her team want to drive home. But first, they had to come up with an idea that would break through the clutter of everyday life to actually reach people on a personal level. If the preliminary mock-ups are any indication, Legacy is on the right path to doing just that.

“At this point, we really don’t care what you call it,” adds Ford. “We want you to use it. We’re looking to not just make a dent in HIV in Texas, we are looking to eradicate HIV infections in Texas. PrEP is one of those tools that may actually help do that, and people need to know about it.”

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The Montrose Management District
board workshop meeting scheduled for April 3
has been postponed indefinitely.