51% of all new STIs diagnosed in 2016 were in people aged 15 to 24 years.
Despite the rates of STIs remaining consistently high, currently, twice as many young people say that the main reason for using condoms is to avoid pregnancy (58%), rather than to avoid getting an STI (29%).
Condom use has become de-normalised, as a result of a combination of factors including the absence of condoms in mainstream media and online pornography, and negative peer influence (reports of sex being better without a condom). This, plus the fact that there hadn’t been a national sexual health campaign since 2009, meant that there was work to be done.
Our objective was to increase condom use amongst young people in order to reduce rates of STIs. We developed a campaign that used interviews with young people talking about their experiences with STIs to show that anyone can get them, even ‘people like you’. Emojis hid their faces and added drama to these real-life stories.
The campaign clearly resonated with our audience, generating over 11 million video views across Instagram, Snapchat and digital display ads. More importantly, people told us that they changed their behaviour: 61% of young people said the ads would make them more likely to use a condom next time they had sex with someone new.
The campaign also got a mention in the Houses of Parliament.
Our audience was 16-24 year olds, particularly 16-19 year olds and those with less sexual experience. Our opportunity was to encourage them to use condoms as soon as they become sexually active.
They know they don’t know enough about STIs: “No one has ever told us this stuff” they said. And preventing pregnancy is their no.1 concern, they don’t think they’re at risk of infection. They use superficial vetting processes to determine whether someone is ‘clean’, and assume that most STIs are easy to treat anyway. Added to these challenges is the fact that condom use is not seen as the norm for young people today.
We needed our audience of young people to understand that anyone who doesn’t use a condom can get an STI, including them. So, we interviewed 16-24-year-olds who’ve had STIs. They were very open and honest about the unpleasant symptoms they'd had. No shock tactics, like those used in campaigns in the past would be needed. The simple descriptions of personal experiences were hard-hitting enough. They worked perfectly with the line: "Anyone who doesn't use a condom can get a STI".
But to get our interviewees to tell their stories on camera, without worrying about the stigma attached to STIs, we needed to hide their identities. So how could we obscure their faces and still retain the emotion and power of what they were saying? By using a visual language that our audience use to communicate their feelings and emotions every single day: emojis.
The emojis also served another important purpose: overlaid onto our straight, single scene interviews, they added colour and drama and crucially, helped to tell the stories in the sound-off video viewing environment.