I Love My Boo!

This is the way to do social marketing for HIV prevention for Black and Latino Gay men.

My friends at the Institute for Gay Men’s Health at GMHC continue to break the mold in terms of how to do effective, interesting, and NON-STIGMATIZING HIV prevention. For Black gay men in particular, we know that number of sex partners, higher rates of drug use or higher rates of unprotected anal sex isn’t what is driving the epidemic among Black gay men (who have the highest HIV rates in the US). One of the things that may be a contributing factor among Black gay youth is “serial monogamy”—Black gay men tend to only date one person at a time, but not having safe sex in those monogamous relationships, which are often (as is generally true with youth) short lived.

Also, when polled about their rates of getting tested, Black gays are generally getting tested regularly, so testing does not equal prevention. So all those “get tested” campaigns are not the issue, and they can actually be more stigmatizing, because the only time Black gays get talked about in public purview is to “protect the public” from disease. I guess we’re not considered part of the public—HIV+ or not.

If we recognize that folks need to have safe sex in their monogamous relationships, this social marketing campaign makes perfect sense as an intervention. I also love the fact that the ads are also all over Black and Latino neighborhoods in NYC.

Kudos, GMHC!

12 thoughts on “I Love My Boo!

  1. Ok, so how do we measure the effectiveness of this (latest) campaign?

    Surely we can’t just put up ads and assume that anyone will a) take notice, b) comprehend the message or c) change their behavior as a result.

    They may seem like a great idea to us conscientious people concerned about HIV infection rates in Black and Latin communities, but will the guy who just needs to bust a nut really care? How do we determine if these have any impact at all?

  2. Well Bernie, I don’t think there’s a magic bullet if that’s what you’re asking for. But I do think it’s a hell of an improvement from the general range of social marketing campaigns that get produced. Would you rather the Philly Black men in cross hairs ad that got produced a few years ago? Would you rather none at all?

    I am emailing the GMHC folks to give me an answer to your question about how to evaluate social marketing campaigns. Since Health Communication is an entire field of study, I think there are some evaluation tools that exist.

    Sometimes I think it’s just simply important to disrupt the spaces of silence in our communities.

    I think your question presupposes that advertising has no impact on behavior and attitudes. Is that really what you’re saying? But I, again, don’t think there is a magic bullet, but these kinds of campaigns are better than the bullshit we’re usually given.

  3. I love this ad because it focuses on the behavior rather than the demographic. All too often public awareness campaigns have focused on so-called “high-risk groups,” usually based on uncontrollables like race, gender, and of course, sexual orientation. This ad speaks to the behavior first, like serial monogamy and condom use; however, it still speaks to those demographic factors that can promote riskier behavior (underrepresentation, lack of access to health education, cultural mores).

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Kenyon, there is no ulterior motive behind my questions.

    Having worked in the HIV field with two of NYC’s largest agencies, most recently in a technical assistance provider capacity to still more agencies from all five boroughs, the industry buzzword of the past several years has been “outcomes measurement.”

    Funders–federal, statel, local, corporate and foundation–now increasingly want to know “how has your programming directly impacted the community?” No longer is it enough to simply report to funders, “we handed out 100 condoms,” without being able to quantifiably determine what impact that action made on the population they serve. Agencies must now create outcomes measurements that look at conditions prior to the institution of the program, during, and afterwards, to gauge with specificity what the agency percieves to be the problem, what action they are taking and why, and what direct changes occured as a result of the program’s implementation.

    I was asking the questions that any funder would ask. Beyond making us feel good, how will you know if these really make any difference? How will you determine if the intended audience even sees these ads (and just placing them in Black/Latin neighborhoods doesn’t guarantee viewership)? How will you measure if your message gets across? How will you determine if anyone’s behavior changes as a result of seeing these ads?

  5. I hear you Bernie, and I have emailed the staff at the Institute to possibly provide me with some answers. But as I said health communication is a whole field and we know that with the right resources social marketing can have an impact on health behaviors (look, for example, at how breast cancer social marketing work has made women doing self-examinations a fairly commonplace occurrence). But I would argue that those “outcomes” measurements are often fucked up, and cannot be totally useful to measure certain things we know to be impacting the epidemic. I think evaluation is useful. But sometimes we know that there is often not an easy way to evaluate something, especially when we’re trying to impact social/structural conditions, and that is the tension with social justice movements have had for the last 40 years to have to measure everything in some social science-y way for the sake of what funders want. And I look at this work, for me, as movement work. Not as a medical work.

    I actually think “feeling good” about being queer in a climate of rampant homophobia is something that is extremely valuable, but it is not easily measured by some stupid program report–and as much as this ad, to me, is about intervening on “serial monogamy” non-condom use, it is also refashioning images of regular young men you see in the neighborhood loving each other. I think it’s hot.

    By the way, you can measure how many people generally traffic an area, and at what times of day, and what kinds of people come across it–that’s what marketing firms do all day! And that’s why ad placement is expensive as all hell. Why? Because people know it impacts how people behave–usually for the sake of buying a useless consumer item.

    I am not sure how you measure “behavior change” when you don’t have millions of dollars to run campaigns like these for months on end. And funders increasingly are demanding the impossible.

    Besides that, I do think positioning ourselves in a different light, and showing a more realistic depiction of who we are, and perhaps who we aspire to be, is an important intervention, irrespective of what any foundation “thinks” that they know. Given my experiences with some funders, I don’t know that we should be driving our work solely by what they think is the problem and the solution.

  6. For the record, I would never argue that the need for outcomes measurements is justified. I merely note that they are now an ever present part of the landscape, largely because money is tight and funders have to choose between one agency over another. If agencies are forced to prove their program effectiveness then funders can more easily distinguish one from another. Not always a fair process, but it is the one that now governs the entire field.

    To that end, they would argue that if you know that some things just aren’t easily measureable, then how will they ever know if the funds they give you are being put to good use? Gut instinct is not a measureable that will fly with funders.

    The world we live in and the world we wish we lived in are rarely the same.

  7. As I said Bernie, I am waiting on the Institute to respond. They can tell us what they’re process of evaluation is. I don’t think it’s a shot in the dark–but sometimes you have to test a hypothesis, sometimes based on gut instinct, before you know it works or doesn’t.

  8. I really liked this marketing campaign and looked around the net for other prevention media that also breaks the mold. This AIDS awareness video by Wilfred Brimo, about a white French guy exploring his sexuality, has received a lot of attention, but I think its message is seriously lagging — something like, “Stay alive so you can find your man and get hitched.” The tone is tongue-in-cheek, but there’s nothing hinting toward trust and respect. Still it’s kinda fun and cute (and a little weird).


  9. Even though GMHC’s market is clear (and clearly not intended for older Black gay men like me who are more visible and who may not necessarily refer to their partners as ‘boo’), I really do love seeing this campaign around Harlem. It really gives me hope that one day our neighborhoods can be not only safe but welcoming of our diversity. I really hope that’s the trajectory.

    I also wonder, though, what non-LGBT Harlemites think about it. I wonder what kind of conversations are happening uptown with us and without us.

    There’s a human chain that’s supposed to convene on 125th Street on Saturday in protest of the River-to-River development scheme. My guess is that there will probably be a number of LGBT people in that chain. Now, if we chose to wear T-shirts professing our love for our boos while being a part of that chain, I have to wonder if our presence would be appreciated by the other participants and by greater Harlem …

  10. I think these are great. And cute too!

    There was one ad on my campus at NYU that I noticed. I called some friends about it, but they took it down soon after. Hmmm.. wonder why that could be… I’m going to try to investigate this. What should I do? Who should I ask? I guess, I should find out who owns that particular spot where the ad was. It may or may not be NYU. I’m gonna see what’s replaced it too. Was there some protest or did the ad just outlive its spot there? I wanna find out.

  11. Pingback: GMHC Launches New Campaign Targeting Fathers of Black Gay Men « Kenyon Farrow

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