Everyone knows the importance of wearing condoms to protect against HIV Aids and STIs – Sexually Transmitted Diseases – so the uptake rate on condom usage, particularly amongst young people, is disappointing, to say the least. It seems youngsters talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.
It’s not unusual for condom packets to bear humorous messages or marketing slogans but see what has happened in Utah in the United States! In order to highlight and publicise an HIV marketing campaign, public health officers hired in an advertising agency to devise some eye-catching and rather provocative slogans which were deliberately designed to be specific to certain regions…geographical regions!
The slogans were a mash-up of infantile humour with local knowledge so, for example, there was a picture of a mountain with the tag line, “Enjoy Your Mountin’” which was a play on Utah’s reputation for the great outdoors. Salt Lake City, Utah was abbreviated to, “SL,UT” and the state’s tourist sign changed from, “Greatest Snow on Earth” to “Greatest Sex on Earth.”
As the saying goes, there is no such thing as bad publicity but these wrappers were all just a bit too much for Governor Gary R. Herbert who found them rather below the belt, literally. Governor Herbert demanded an end to the free condom handout which posed a problem as there were 100,000 of these on order and 42,000 had already been given away. Part of the initiative had been government-funded and the Governor was objecting to the use of taxpayer’s money to promote what was, in his view, a lewd campaign. He was shooting the message rather than the messenger and requested that the health department change the branding of the HIV awareness campaign which he fully endorsed.
However, Erin Fratto from the Health Department’s Prevention Treatment and Care Program spoke up for the campaign saying that the condom packets were ‘fun and relatable’ and got the message across. The publicity generated by the Governor’s response certainly added a certain cachet to the condoms with the suggestion made that if you were offended by the slogans then perhaps you were not part of the target demographic.
The condoms were part of a broader campaign backed by a website with information about HIV treatment and prevention probably reflecting Utah’s rather poor position in the HIV diagnosis stakes, a rather disappointing 36th out of 50 amongst the American states. The intention was to reach out to groups within society who are historically harder to reach so there were free handouts in bars, clubs, Universities and LGBTQ centres. The Utah Health Department did publish a written apology for any offence caused by the packaging which it described as, ‘lewd’, blaming an administrative failure within the department which meant that the condoms were released to the public without the official approval being sought.
But, you can’t deny it, everyone was talking about them so you do wonder how calculated the oversight actually was. Nearly half of them made it into general circulation before the distribution was halted. The idea had been borrowed from other American states but Utah is well-known for its highly religious population, nearly 75%, so perhaps they were also more likely to take offence.