Coinciding with World AIDS Day today, Dec. 1, a new advertising campaign focusing on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) — a pill prevention option for people at high risk of contracting HIV — aims to “reduce HIV infections and to communicate to those at high risk that they don’t deserve to be punished with HIV for ‘misbehaving,'” says Savas Abadsidis ’96, chief media strategist for Connected Health Solutions, Inc. (CHS), who wrote and produced the campaign with CHS principal consultant Kenny Neal Shults.
With CHS, an organizational development consultancy at the intersection of public health and new media, Abadsidis uses his background in marketing, entertainment, media relations and publishing to connect with at-risk and hard-to-reach demographics, raising awareness about HIV, trans-community issues, poverty, med-adherence, and bullying.
The PrEP campaign, he explains, is designed to reach three specific target populations: 18-25 year old “party boys” who may use recreational drugs; men who have sex with men and don’t identify as homosexual; and sero-discordant or sero-different couples, i.e. relationships in which one partner is infected by HIV and the other is not.
Each spot in the three-video ad series offers a unique look at PrEP for each high-risk audience, with a spot addressing PrEP “For the Party,” “For a Date” and “For Love.”
The first spot features JD Phoenix, an adult film actor who is “the embodiment of perceived young gay male sexual autonomy” and “has been public about his battle with meth addiction and also open about his use of PrEP,” says Abadsidis. “Whether we like it or not, there are plenty of young gay men using drugs and having barrier free sex, not at all unlike their heterosexual counterparts. But debasing gays for being human while in a higher risk group seemed at best like a double standard and at worst a highly unethical and ineffective means for keeping them healthy.”
While creating the campaign, Abadsidis and his team consulted a group of infectious disease doctors, which identified men who have sex with other men but don’t identify as gay as the population most in need of information about PrEP. To reach out to this demographic with an “authentic exchange,” the second spot features actors involved in the Connected Health Solutions focus group who ad-libbed some of the dialogue and contributed their own ideas to the script.
Finally, to address the role of PrEP in sero-discordant relationships, the last spot “needed something to push the envelope a bit beyond our comfort zone,” says Abadsidis, who “cast the fabulous Octavia Lewis and her husband Sean. I thought having a mixed race trans couple who are married and have a family was really important in terms of representation.”
Visit HIV Is Still a Big Deal for more information and to watch the three PrEP awareness ads — which have been featured in national media outlets including OUT, The Advocate, Huffington Post, Logo, HIV Plus Magazine and Towleroad — and comment through the online survey.