5th September 2023

How to market touchy subjects to your target audience

The term 'sex sells' has been used a lot over the years. Brands would use sex appeal to make their products or services more appealing. And although this is still relevant in some areas – I’m sure we’ve all been mesmerised by Charlize Theron exiting her very large bath in the Dior adverts – the idea of using this method now is only for those brave enough to put their reputation on the line.

Instead we’re now turning to TV for our dopamine hits. With shows like Too Hot to Handle, Naked Attraction and Sex Actually, where Alice Levine accompanies people on their sexual journeys, the modern world is less about Diet Coke breaks and more about binge-worthy frolics.

So, what do you do when you're trying to promote safe sex and STI testing without demonising the act itself? Are people as open to learning about the affects of chlamydia as they are about who coupled up in Love Island the night before?

Umbrella Health

We’ve been working with Umbrella Health (run by University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust) since 2015 and help them with a number of digital marketing and offline campaigns each year to promote safe sex and their STI self-sampling kits. The kits enable people to test for STIs in the comfort of their own home, post the kit back and receive their results by phone or text; a very discreet, easy-to-use service.

Working together we have found that humour and tongue-in-cheek ads achieve high engagement levels, not only among the target 16-24-year olds, but in a more mature audience too. With wording such as ‘At it like rabbits?’ for an Easter campaign and ‘Been feelin’ the burn?’ during a gym related Chlamydia campaign, it would be difficult not to double take and find out more.

The service is local to Birmingham and Solihull which meant we had a lot of fun with the creative for an STI campaign we produced a few years ago, using nearby landmarks to create play on words and bold colours to make the artwork stand out. The recognisable place names helped attract attention through the sense of familiarity and relevance, while the tone of the messaging brought the humour factor. This campaign saw a 50% increase in kit orders compared to previous months; the most ever ordered in a single month.

Umbrella STI Self Sampling Campaign Case Study 3

Why humour encourages curiosity

The work we do with Umbrella Health does have a serious side, especially looking at the figures of positive test results, but it’s followed by a sense of achievement when you see the rise in kit orders and knowing we’re bringing awareness to the local areas.

So, why does humour encourage people to want to find out more? It’s about being different and standing out from the worrying facts we see too often. Sure, sexual health isn’t meant to be a fun topic and we aren’t all skipping happily to the pharmacy the day after unprotected sex. But bringing a light-hearted side to the subject and having such a discreet and easy-to-use service encourages the audience to make responsible choices.

I’m sure there will be more sex-related TV shows just around the corner, but we’ll be armed with a clever campaign to make people think twice before they copy what they see on-screen.

If you’d like to take a look at any of our previous health-related work, please visit our case studies page.

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