On January 1, 2018, Desert AIDS Project (DAP) launched an innovative campaign to promote safe sex in the Coachella Valley. Billboards and signs featuring fashion dolls—in the style of Ken and Barbie—have been mounted throughout the valley with the intent of promoting pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, a “safer-sex” option to prevent HIV transmission. The dolls are posed to suggest a portrayal of intimacy between gay males and transgender women, with playful messages like “See what happens next @ PrEPnPLAY.org,” as well as similarly intriguing taglines in Spanish.
When viewers visit the website, they will have access to information on PrEP and other safe-sex options like condoms, and how these practices can lower the risk of contracting HIV. The website also features animations continuing the “storyline” teased in the billboards, with content in English and Spanish.
The billboard campaign is aimed at informing African American and Latino LGBTQ communities, as HIV transmission trends in those populations have not dropped. In the transgender community, transmission rates are actually climbing.
“We wanted a campaign that was sex-positive—to help combat shame and stigma, fun and representative of the gay and transgender communities in the greater Coachella Valley,” said Bruce Weiss, DAP’s Director of Community Health, in an interview with DesertSun.com. “The dolls provide a memorable and humorous way to communicate serious topics in a more light-hearted and approachable manner.”
Weiss explained that using dolls allows for stories to be conveyed graphically, which could not be done with real people. Dolls also allow portrayal of “Latino and African American gay males and transgender women without running into issues of specific ethnicity,” with the dolls letting individuals “see more of themselves in the characters as opposed to the characters themselves.”
DAP has been careful in the placement of the signs, picking locations to reach the target at-risk audience of 18 and older, but away from main thoroughfares to avoid attention from children. The website and its content are heavily labeled with warnings that the information is for adults.
Ten current billboards will remain visible throughout the Coachella Valley until January 29, when they will be updated with new messages for another four weeks.