Sloganeering

For years the city has been using racy ads to sell HIV prevention. Do they work?

For example, the Stop AIDS Project ran advertisements in June 2005 during its "Shining a Light on HIV" campaign that were described by men in the community as both "edgy" and "insulting." Two of the catchphrases were "I'm pretty sure I only gave it to one guy" and "Safe Sex Bottom: Serving the Community as a Hole."

"I just feel dirty when I see a lot of these ads," says Daniel Holloway, 44.

Some men express confusion at the idea of using fear or sex to spread messages of safety, trust, and communication; others have chosen to ignore the ads altogether.

When Castro resident James Serrano, 27, was asked about the effectiveness of HIV marketing campaigns, he replied, "Don't ask me. I haven't paid attention to that shit for years."

Despite the controversy over social marketing, San Francisco does have reason to celebrate. New evidence shows that HIV infection rates are dropping, but not because of any ad campaign or city-funded program.

A study published last June by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the HIV incidence rate among gay men in S.F. had decreased from 2.2 percent to 1.2 percent since 2001. Mounting data now suggests that "serosorting" -- the practice by which gay men choose to have sex only with those who share their HIV status -- might be primarily responsible for the decrease in new infections.

"Many HIV-positive individuals are choosing partners who are also positive as a way to stop the spread of the epidemic," Dr. Robert Grant of the UCSF Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology told SF Weekly in a December interview.

But neither the city nor the AIDS Foundation has endorsed or sponsored any programming or advertising about serosorting. This successful technique has emerged from within the gay community itself without any sexy models or punchy slogans to urge it on.

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