Stigma transcends race, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, economic class, and more. Stigma is everywhere, so what can we do to start to break it down? 

In this blog post we share a bit of our experience and expertise with reducing stigma around tough issues like sexual health, to forge a better path forward for everyone. 

Let’s start by defining what stigma is. By definition, stigma is “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” It can manifest as social stigma—people placing judgment on others—or as self-stigma, where individuals internalize negative stereotypes about themselves. Social stigma can trigger self-stigma, in a vicious cycle aided by structural factors, as well. 

Stigma can seem to be an insurmountable barrier to people getting the help they need. Focusing on destigmatization is a foundational pillar for much of our work, especially with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) on the “Proud to Be PrEPPED” campaign. 

Our challenge was to raise awareness around the once-a-day HIV prevention drug, PrEP. 

The PrEP pill provides 99% protection from HIV infection. What was standing in the way of adoption? PrEP has historically been stigmatized for being expensive for consumers to purchase with or without insurance, difficult to get from providers, and has been substantially stigmatized as a drug only taken by those wanting to be sexually promiscuous. 

Based on these insights, we set out to instill pride in our audiences—men having sex with men, transgender women, cisgender women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and members of the Latinx community. 

We battled the associated stigmas by empowering our target audiences to take responsibility for their health and become part of a solution that could ultimately eradicate AIDS. We wanted to show our audience that there’s no shame in taking charge of your health, it’s something to be immensely proud of. 

We introduced the “Proud to be PrEPPED” campaign, featuring real, up-close-and-very-personal stories from core target audience members to combat stigma, drive awareness and encourage use. To combat the financial stigma, we created a “Proud to Prescribe PrEP” site to help consumers identify where they might go to discuss and receive a prescription for the pill and included information on affordable options for care. 

We partnered with a local multicultural agency to transcreate the entire “Proud to Be PrEPPED” campaign to “Orgullosamente Preparado.” This transcreation included the brand tagline, videos, collateral, giveaways, and more, and was an integral part of ensuring equity and authenticity in our campaign

The result? Willingness to try PrEP increased over 40% and use of PrEP increased 408%.

Stigma is complex and incredibly dangerous in its effects on individuals and their mental and physical health. It doesn’t happen overnight, but with the right communications strategy, and the right message, we can work together to destigmatize important subjects such as opioid use disorder and mental health. Learn more about our anti-stigma work.

Co-Authored by Senior Account Managers, Katelyn Aberle and Sara Nigro