It’s time to do PrEP marketing differently.

Chileshe Bwalya, FHI 360
Elmari Briedenhann, Wits RHI
Emily Donaldson, FHI 360
Morgan Garcia, FHI 360
Giuliana Morales, FHI 360
Casey Bishopp, FHI 360

Effective marketing draws on insights—the less obvious, often hidden truths that are unearthed only by digging through research and evidence. Insights are often discoveries about the underlying motivations that drive people’s actions. They tell us the most important “why” behind an audience’s behavior. But while all insights are grounded in evidence, not every insight can and should be translated into marketing.

Insights provide guidance for program developers, project implementers, and scientists as we develop interventions aimed at changing behavior. And insights can and should inform a ntswembu (impressive)* marketing strategy.

*Ntswembu – a slang phrase used by South African young women to describe something that is impressive.

As marketing for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has evolved, we have seen a shift away from strategies we know don’t work: fear-based, stigma-reinforcing, HIV-centric, medicalized, and far-future focused. Yet we need to go a step further and analyze all the insights that form the backbone of our campaigns and our messages through a gender-transformative lens. For example, we need to move away from messaging that frames young women as victims of circumstance rather than the drivers of their own lives.

We want our campaigns and messages to be built on insights that inspire our audience to think or feel differently so that they ultimately influence behavior—in our case, uptake and continued use of HIV prevention products and services by adolescent girls and young women. But insights are often contextual truths that, when translated into campaigns and messages, can perpetuate harmful norms and stereotypes. And if we continue to reinforce harmful norms and stereotypes through our marketing, we play into the same cycle that drives new infections and widens the gender inequality gap. Building campaigns on such insights can also reinforce ideas that are connected with deep-rooted stigma. We need to ensure that marketing strategies are instead built on insights that support equality and promote the relative position of women, girls, and marginalized groups.

MOSAIC’s marketing team seeks the insights likely to have the most impact by evaluating each one. Does it present an opportunity for change? Does it evoke an emotional response? Does it tell us some fundamental truth about the audience? Is it relevant? And does it resonate most with the intended audience?

To do this, our marketing team worked alongside the project’s youth advisors from across MOSAIC countries, the NextGen Squad, to evaluate insights that inform the positioning of the PrEP category in MOSAIC’s marketing strategy. The Squad helped to push our thinking, applying a gender-transformative lens by asking additional, critical questions about each insight.

They asked: Does it strengthen the agency of young women as actors in their own lives? Does this insight examine or challenge the underlying structures and norms that perpetuate inequalities? Does it inspire and enable young women to create their own vision of positive change in their lives? Does the insight reflect women and girls as rational beings, capable of making an informed choice and asserting their bodily integrity?

Through this process, we identified insights that were aspirational, with an emphasis on self-care and prioritizing one’s own holistic well-being. These are the insights we took forward into the next iterations of our positioning—those that encourage critical consciousness and reflect the positive behavior change we seek to effect.

We call on all those undertaking marketing for PrEP to apply this lens to their work. We are confident that our continued engagement with young women, coupled with a commitment to viewing all we do through a gender-transformative lens, will help us produce a marketing strategy and assets that are truly inspiring to young women; capitalize on their inherent worth as the most important actors in their own lives; and are sensitive to the many challenges—and opportunities—that they face.

Featured Graphic: Bridger Trap, FHI 360