Background: Given ongoing public health impact of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among men who have sex with men (MSM), the Los Angeles County (LAC) Division of HIV and STD Programs (DHSP) sought to increase condom access and use among this population. The resulting program has used interactive outreach strategies and diverse communication channels to engage the target population, partner with community influencers, generate intense free media coverage, and achieve high levels of program awareness and usage.
Program background: In focus groups, MSM strongly urged, “Don’t tell us to be safe,” but instead, make condoms fun. Accordingly, the program was designed to be aspirational and normative, emphasizing fun, community, and the attractiveness of a healthy lifestyle, and specifically omitting motivators based on disease, safety, or fear. DHSP and media partner, CBS Inc., selected a condom vendor able to manage both a condom wrapper design contest and the lengthy FDA approval process for branded condom wrappers. The contest, “L.A.’s Next Sex Symbol,” launched May, 2012, through radio, collateral materials, social media, and LGBT news sites. Contestants entered condom wrapper designs by mailing or uploading pictures; celebrity judges selected 50 top designs, then the general public voted online to select a winner and 10 runners-up. The provocative, sex-positive design contest generated immense media attention, with 500 designs entered and 185,000 online votes cast. The winning design: a tuxedo tie, with the tagline, “Suit Up L.A.” Following FDA wrapper approval, the L.A. Condom Program launched at L.A. Pride in June 2013. Contest-winning condoms were made available free through LACondom.com, partnering geo-targeted venues and community events. Several of more than 250 LAC gay sports teams were also engaged as “condom ambassadors,” with team members featured in ads and videos, including on apps like GrindR and Scruff. This strategy directly and sustainably engaged the target community, amplified the aspirational “healthy lifestyle” theme, took timely advantage of media coverage of prominent gay athletes, and leveraged league social events and social networks to reach MSM. Videos developed with community influencers like Chico’s Angels and You Tube celebrity Davey Wavey, each with an established base of followers, garnered more than 350,000 views, as well as blog and news coverage.
Evaluation Methods and Results: Through 2014, the program has distributed 2,244,000 condoms, including 1,468,980 through diverse partnering venues, at far less cost than similar programs (adjusted for scale). Of 560 current venues, all have reordered at least once, and 337 are listed on LACondom.com as sites where free condoms are available.
Conclusions: Condom distribution has substantially exceeded the original goal of 1,000,001 condoms per year, while creating a strong community infrastructure to sustain the program.
Implications for research and/or practice: Effective formative work with the target population shaped a successful program tone and message. By using a fun, sex-positive approach, and incorporating community engagement strategies – including the design contest, distribution and media partners, and sports league “ambassadors” – the program generated extensive free media attention and leveraged the partners’ social and media networks.