Getting Sexual Health-Focused Marketing Right Means Taking an Inclusive Approach

There’s plenty of opportunities to shape the conversation

a hand tapping on a phone with a bunch of meters above it
To break stigmas around sexual health, marketers need to embrace talking about it more. Getty Images
Headshot of Elaine Cox

What we do has an undeniable impact on pop culture, and given the size of our platform, marketers have a responsibility to shape culture for the better. It’s especially critical to get the tone and the message right when approaching the topic of sexual health. But this is often easier said than done. Part of the challenge is that talking about sexual health is still considered taboo, not only for corporations and marketers, but for all of us.

September was Sexual Health Month, an opportune time to focus on best practices for creating sexual health-focused marketing.

Purpose-driven marketing benefits everyone

Before we jump into specifics, it’s important to acknowledge why involvement in this arena is so great. Being passionate about the work you’re doing not only elevates the creative and execution, but it’s galvanizing. People want to work at agencies that take on purpose-driven challenges. People want to work for and buy from brands that acknowledge the responsibility that comes with their platform and use it for good.

According to a recent study from research firm Clutch, 71% of consumers reported that environmentally-friendly business practices were important business attributes compared to 44% for price/value. The biggest risk is not taking a risk at all, and as more people openly talk about sexual health, more brands will do the same, creating a positive cycle of increasing awareness.

The biggest risk is not taking a risk at all, and as more people openly talk about sexual health, more brands will do the same.

Diversity is the foundation

Marketing that amplifies sexual health needs to be intersectional and mindful of the varying experiences of people from different backgrounds. To be effective in doing this, you need to build a diverse and inclusive team that can speak to multiple points of view in a safe space. Work shaped by a non-diverse team won’t capture the complex way in which race, sexual orientation, class and identity affect sexual health.

It’s important to remember that you aren’t selling a product; the goal is to get people to advocate for themselves and to make a fundamental change in their behavior. Understanding the nuances of different cultural backgrounds and the unique issues different people face will allow the work to resonate on a deeper and more universal level. Diversity and inclusion should be baked into the idea from the beginning.

Approach is everything

In all creative work, the delivery needs to be impactful, but the stakes are higher with sexually aware marketing. This does not mean, however, that a serious or somber approach is necessary to execute an effective and well-informed campaign. A lighter tone can help get people comfortable with having conversations about sexual health and create safe spaces for people to acknowledge they have room for improvement—whether it’s advocating for themselves or even changing their own behavior—without feeling like they’re being lectured or shamed.

It’s also valuable to get out into the field. Spending time with the people receiving your message and hearing the impact your campaign has had on them is both inspiring and educational. You can see the positive effects first-hand and also gather feedback on where there’s room to improve. The care you put into crafting a campaign isn’t enough because its effect on people will be impossible to judge from the comfort of your desk.

Location, location, location

The work can’t only be well-intentioned, it needs to be good. Marketers need to deliver surprising creative in order to capture and hold attention and have an impact on real-life outcomes. The advantage marketers have is the ability to reach people in moments where their message matters most. People don’t bring academic studies to nightclubs or read think pieces at musical festivals, but they are often in the presence of marketing content in moments where sexual health and respect should be top-of-mind.

The challenge is that these audiences usually aren’t interested in being exposed to another ad. The message needs to be delivered in unexpected ways and in relevant places in order to transcend standard advertising and became a part of a real moment that is ripe for education and conversation.

Having a public voice is an opportunity to do good

In short, marketers have a responsibility to bring thoughtful conversations about sexual health out into the open. The unfortunate reality is that when it comes to sexual health, including topics like consent, many people become defensive or closed off. Conversations can devolve into accusations of oversensitivity, anger or even mockery. Marketers have an opportunity to both shape important dialogue around sexual health and help destigmatize these topics.

In the end, your approach may differ depending on your strategy, but it’s important to remember that having a public voice is an opportunity to do good. When done right, marketing can not only drive awareness but can also help change outcomes and reshape the world for the better.

Elaine Cox is the executive creative director at Heat.