In a bid to normalise regular testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among young people, the Australian Government has launched a new behaviour change campaign called ‘Beforeplay’, with creative developed by Ogilvy.
‘Beforeplay’ launched in mid-January in response to the rising prevalence of preventable STIs like syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia.
Targeting young people aged 20-34, the campaign aims to educate and raise awareness of STI prevention by giving a new name to a crucial step in a sexual health journey. That step – Beforeplay – refers to getting an STI test before embarking on sexual activity, in addition to using barrier protection.
How the campaign plays out
The national campaign will be seen across online video, social, out of home and bar coasters using the tagline: ‘Make STI testing your Beforeplay’. With links to information and resources, the clever campaign copy also includes: ‘It’s checking your fun parts, before the fun starts’, ‘It’s the check up, before the hook up’ and ‘It’s the test part, before the best part’.
The Beforeplay idea also has behaviour change at its heart, stretching across other targeted activity in addition to these traditional awareness channels. This includes media placement on dating apps like Tinder and Grindr, as well as specially branded condoms at university orientation week activations, with the overall aim to embed the meaning behind Beforeplay into regular thinking about sex among the target audience.
“One in six Australians will get an STI and the rates of infection are rising, particularly among young people aged 20 to 34,” Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler said in a media statement.
“It’s been almost 15 years since the last major STI awareness campaign from the Australian Government. This is an important health issue, not a taboo topic. The Beforeplay campaign will help reduce the stigma around STI testing and prevention.”
According to Ogilvy Creative Group head Shaun Branagan, the campaign also aims to make STI testing feel like a normal part of looking after your health, rather than an obstacle.
“The work introduces new language to make it clear regular check-ups, even outside of perceived moments of risk, are a socially accepted practice, and something people do to proudly take charge of their sexual health,” Branagan says.
“It adapts a common component of great sex – foreplay, a moment that we all know comes first – and stretches that concept into a moment that begins before you even get into the bedroom.”
Does Beforeplay get it right?
Both Ogilvy and the Federal Government have called Beforeplay “groundbreaking”. But Andrea Waling, senior research fellow in Sex and Sexuality at La Trobe University, highlights some ways in which this campaign might miss the mark.
In an article for The Conversation, published on 19 January, Waling argues young people already know to get tested, but may face other barriers to accessing these tests.
“More than 72 percent of participants believed young people should be tested for STIs,” she writes. “But less than 13 percent thought it was a common practice among their age group. And only 26 percent believed STI testing was easily accessible.”
Waling suggests a variety of reasons could explain why young people aren’t regularly testing for STIs, including taboo and shame around sexual activity, particularly among those from some marginalised groups. And despite attempts for inclusion, Waling argues Beforeplay carries an undercurrent of ‘queerphobia’.
“The two videos featuring a heterosexual couple show more physical intimacy and engagement, such as kissing and bodies touching,” she explains.
“The video featuring the queer couple, however, only shows them holding hands, with their bodies appearing further apart.”
While the Government’s campaign message is simple and direct, Waling argues Beforeplay could still have been clearer.
“More clarity in the posters and videos as to how often the campaign is recommending testing – whether before every sexual encounter with a new partner, or just general frequent testing as good sexual health practice – would also be helpful.”
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