December 1, 2014No Comments

26 years later we are still living with HIV

Since 1988, December 1st has been observed as World AIDS Day. On this day, communities and organizations make a concerted effort to bring awareness to the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. December 1st is also a day to remember all of those we have lost in the battle against HIV/AIDS and celebrate the advances made against the virus.

Millions of dollars have gone towards research for finding a cure or vaccine for HIV/AIDS. Programs have been launched around the country to educate people on safe sex practices. Rapid HIV tests have been developed to make testing easier and more accurate. New drugs, such as Truvada PrEP, are either on the market or in development to help prevent HIV transmission. With all of these advances, the HIV landscape of 2014 looks quite different than it did 26 years ago. But the battle is not over. With new HIV infections and AIDS diagnoses still on the rise, we must continue to work towards an AIDS free generation. Here's how you can make a difference.

Get tested

Make it a point to know your status and get tested at least once a year. If you're negative, you can continue to learn ways to remain negative. If you're positive, you can find resources and support. Don't know where to get tested? Visit to find a testing site near you.

Educate yourself

Knowledge is one of the best weapons we have against HIV/AIDS, and we've learned a lot about HIV in the past 26 years. For example, did you know that there is less of a risk of HIV transmission with someone who is HIV positive with an undetectable viral load and on medication than someone who is recently diagnosed with HIV? Do you know that Truvada PrEP can reduce the risk of HIV transmission by 94% when taken consistently? Keep up-to-date on developments and news about HIV/AIDS and take control of your sex life by making informed decisions.

End stigma

There is still a lot of stigma around people who test positive for HIV. Describing positive people using words such as dirty, damaged, irresponsible, worthless, slutty, etc. diminishes the person as unequal to their HIV negative counterparts. Positive or negative, we are all living with HIV and are all HIV equal. It is important to think about the words we use when talking about HIV so that we can remove the stigma around it. Want to get involved with ending the stigma online? Join the #WeAreAllClean campaign to raise money for amfAR and Housing Works and end the use of the word "clean" to describe HIV negative people. You can also join Prince Harry in his #FeelNoShame campaign. In support of children in Lesotho who feel too ashamed to tell anyone they have HIV, this World AIDS Day is a day that no one feels any shame about their secrets.

Get involved

This year's World AIDS Day theme is "Getting to Zero." This means zero new infections, zero AIDS-related deaths, and zero discrimination. But we can only get to this goal if we all work together. There are many ways to get involved this World AIDS day. In Chicago, you can volunteer your time with local organizations such as TPAN, Center on Halsted, Howard Brown and DIFFA to name a few.

If you don't have time to volunteer but love to shop, below is a list of retailers who are donating part of their proceeds to the fight against HIV/AIDS today.

Or just do the steps above and be the difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Share your experience and story with others and raise awareness with those around you. Together we can achieve an AIDS free generation.

August 7, 2014No Comments

Where’s the marketing for Truvada PrEP?

Have you heard about Truvada PrEP? Recently, the antiretroviral medication has made the rounds through several news and social media outlets causing controversy and debate, especially among the gay community.

On July 16, 2012, the FDA approved the use of the medication Truvada as part of an individual's HIV prevention strategy. More commonly known as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), research has shown Truvada can reduce the risk of HIV transmission between 92 and 99% if the regiment is adhered to daily. The medical community has such faith in the effectiveness of the drug that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) added PrEP to its HIV prevention guidelines in May 2014. In July, WHO (World Health Organization) publicly urged all men who have sex with men to use PrEP as part of their HIV prevention regimen.

So here's what we have:

  • A product that claims to offer a solution to a global medical problem.
  • It's backed by some of the most respected health organizations in the United States.
  • It's been on the market since 2012.
  • We know the pharmaceutical industry is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Based on this, wouldn't you expect to see advertising for Truvada PrEP popping up everywhere? Yet there has been little to no traditional marketing done for Truvada PrEP. So my question as a direct marketer is this: where is the marketing campaign? I believe the answer to this question is two-fold.

1.) It's in Gilead's best interest not to market Truvada PrEP

Using Truvada as part of a HIV prevention regimen has created a firestorm or controversy in the media and among the gay community. Both advocates and there detractors have been vocal about whether using Truvada will actually decrease new HIV infections, or encourage men who have sex with men to engage in more high-risk behaviors. By not rolling out a full advertising campaign and focusing more on awareness, Gilead may be positioning themselves to stay out of the crossfire.

There's also the 2010 ad that Gilead ran for Truvada as part of a campaign targeted to people who were HIV positive. The ad did not meet with FDA regulations, causing a bit of a PR snafu. While I'm sure they've learned from this mistake, Gilead may be a little shy to pull the trigger for another Truvada marketing campaign.

2.) Guerilla marketing is already in effect

#truvadawhore tshirt
The best thing Truvada PrEP has going for it now, is its word-of-mouth awareness. Thanks to social media, people are creating a dialogue about the drug, its uses, side effects, and whether they thinks its right or wrong for use with HIV prevention. Whether it has polarized people or left them feeling somewhere in the middle, people are talking, sharing resources and pushing the conversation further. One example is the "#TruvadaWhore" movement. The movement started online as a backlash to the thought that people on Truvada PrEP are simply engaging in higher risk sexual activities. The "#TruvadaWhore" campaign is just one example of how people have used social media and guerilla marketing to bring awareness. Continued online discussion has helped impact media outlets which are producing more stories on the topic. It has also encouraged individuals and organizations to host events focused on educating people about Truvada PrEP.

Does Truvada PrEP need traditional marketing?

So now that I've looked at the situation around Truvada PrEP's marketing, I'm left with a new question: Is a traditional marketing campaign necessary? The direct marketer in me wants to say "yes". As with any product, I feel that there are methods and tactics that can be implemented to increase awareness to a targeted demographic. I can already envision an integrated campaign with direct mail, email, banner ads, landing pages, social media posts, etc.

But maybe that's not what this movement needs. After all, this is a medication that deals with a personal choice about an individual's sexual habits. Maybe the key is to continue with guerilla style techniques that keep the dialogue and awareness going, like the recent YouTube videos from the CDC. Or maybe just by writing an article discussing the marketing efforts around Truvada PrEP ;-).

April 9, 2014No Comments

How good design gave safe sex a facelift

As designers, we are often tasked with breathing new life into an old message. This usually requires copious amounts of coffee, sleepless nights and a large scrap heap of failed concepts. Finding a design solution for an already established message is no easy task. You have to look at the history of previous creative (what worked, what didn't work), your target audience, current design trends, and then find a new way to break through to your audience. Once you find the creative solution though, it's fun to see an old message learn a new trick.

I'm ON campaign design by Frost*

Frost* design was recently faced with this challenge. The Australian LGBTI health organization ACON was looking to give new life to a familiar message: using safe sex practices to end HIV. This is a message that is still relevant today, but has a danger of being overlooked and tuned out. Looking for a fresh approach, they worked with Frost* design to develop engaging outdoor display ads to correspond with their "Ending HIV" campaign. The "I'm ON" display ads are designed to primarily target gay men. The creative solution built off the direct and modern design of the "Ending HIV" campaign, but infused with humor and bold statements. The simplicity of the design allows the ads to quickly convey the main message of safe sex through condom usage, and secondarily provide a way to get more information. The bold and light-hearted tone of the message, helps to engage gay men who have seen and heard it all before, and are tired of hearing a preachier message.

For Frost*, the hard work has paid off. Not only has the campaign been successful for ACON, but it is currently featured in Communication Art's 2014 Interactive annual, as a standout campaign. For a print campaign to get featured in an interactive annual, they must have done something right.

Giving old messaging a new facelift is part of the daily grind for most designers. What recent reinvented campaigns have captured your attention? Where do you look for inspiration when re-designing a campaign?

Let's connect.

© Justin Herren 2022 | Creative strategist + design lead