The story behind BeforePlay.org and its sex-positive meme campaign
You may have seen Beforeplay.org's billboards around the city or memes (like the one above) floating around Facebook. Part of an ongoing campaign advocating safe sex and sex positivity, BeforePlay.org is using humor to connect with Coloradans in a way that is accessible and designed to spark a conversation. Formed in 2008 as a public/private partnership between the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Initiative to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy, BeforePlay.org has been working to provide the tools and information necessary to make safe-sex education fun, easy to understand and even easier to talk about.
Westword reached out to Greta Klingler, family planning supervisor for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and BeforePlay.org's spokeswomen to learn more about what the organization's mission and how it sets out to accomplish that mission.
Westword: What is Beforeplay.org, exactly?
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Greta Klinger: Several years ago, there was a group of organizations here in Colorado that were really focused on reducing unintended pregnancy. The reason for that was, of all the births here in Colorado, about half of them end up being unplanned -- meaning, the woman didn't want to be pregnant at all or she got pregnant sooner than she would have liked. It is an issue for us here in public health because we know that those pregnancies and those births are associated with some negative outcomes.
Women who experience unintended pregnancy are less likely to finish school -- whether that's high school, college or anything like that. The children born as a result of these pregnancies is more likely to be low birth weight, not have had good prenatal care and other associated negative health outcomes along the way. So we wanted to address this issue and we were doing a number of things here at the health department -- we actually fund family-planning clinics across the state to provide contraceptive services. We were really focusing on making sure people had access to the most effective methods of birth control, like IUDs and implants if they wanted them without a cost barrier.
As we made all of these efforts, there was something that kept coming up -- and that was that people aren't comfortable and don't want to talk about these issues, whether it is sex, birth control or STD prevention. While doing some data collection and focus-group testing, we heard from young people over and over again that they wanted to have conversations -- with their partners, with their parents, with their health-care providers -- but they didn't know how to bring these topics up and they were embarrassed or uncomfortable. So we wanted to create something that encouraged people to have those conversations and give them the tools to make it a little bit easier. That's kind of where BeforePlay.org started.
We also wanted to make sure that we were really targeting this young adult age of eighteen to mid-twenties, because that's where we actually see the most unintended pregnancies. A lot of times, this group isn't focused on; you see more focus on teen pregnancy issues. We wanted to do something that really spoke to that age group. Whether it is through the clinics or just talking to people out in the community, that's what we were hearing and that's what the data was reflecting.
So as we spoke to people across Colorado in this age group, we heard a couple of things: for one, they wanted a source for information that was reliable and easy to understand. There are a lot of resources out there that can be very clinical and full of medical jargon. Or, people were worried about being sold something -- like, if the information is coming from one of the pharmacuetical companies, are they really just trying to get you to buy their products?
I definitely feel like whenever I see ads or billboards directed at women and unplanned pregnancies, it is always from a church group -- not saying that is coming from a bad place, but it is clear from the point of view that there is only one alternative.
Sure. And a lot of times too, even when the intent is very positive, there still is some judgment implied, one way or another, regardless of what position they may be taking. So we really worked to create something that didn't do that; it was very important to us.
Because that was also another thing we heard -- (people) didn't want to be told what to do. They wanted some humor around it, still while maintaining that reliability. So we set about to develop some messaging, looking at what we could do with a campaign to hit on all of those issues. We tried to figure out how create something that was understandable, conversational, helpful, useful, non-judgmental and incorporated everyone out there dealing with these issues. Sex and sexuality is a part of everyone's life, no matter what it might look like. So we wanted to make sure that we addressed that for everybody.
It was fun to develop this new campaign and figure out where we could have humor but still maintain the reliability and authority behind the information that is there. And also, to make sure that there is no judgment, as that is something you often see. Like with teen pregnancy campaigns, they very often have a feeling of "this is bad" and "this is wrong" -- we didn't want that feeling. If someone experiences a pregnancy, whether intended or unintended, we don't want there to be judgment. We want to give them the tools to make sure they are as healthy as possible and they can make the decisions that are right for them.
We wanted to make sure that everybody's choices were validated and that they have the resources to make the choice that was right for them.
Before this meme campaign, I recall seeing a billboard last summer in my neighborhood that said, "I'm a little naughty, but I keep it safe." I was taken aback, in a good way.
The marketing firm that we've worked with has been really amazing at coming up with messaging that does just that. It starts the conversation or makes you think about it in a little different way or puts some humor behind it to take the edge off of a conversation that can be kind of weird or uncomfortable to start, just because we don't know how.
With this latest 2014 campaign, how did these particular memes come about?
Earlier this spring, we talked about doing something to freshen up activity, particularly on social media. Looking at what we did in the past and seeing what people responded to most positively in terms of what they wanted share and what they would comment on the most. Again, it was definitely true that people always respond more to the visual stuff, but also the humor. So whenever we've had things that are more on the funny side and playing with the idea of the double entendre, it always gets a positive response. We wanted to come up with some memes that were just fun and engaged people and make sure they are still having these conversations. It was just a way to freshen up the message and get people talking again.
So when it comes down to the memes themselves, there were a few that I didn't quite get -- like "Fourteeners are not the only peaks to summit." I don't know, maybe it went over my head? I'm also not the target audience.
(Laughs.) I don't necessarily get them all myself, either. But again, when we have them developed, they are tested with people in the target audience to see what people positively respond to. I think with that one and some of the other ones, too, just leaving it up to someone's imagination, like, what does that mean? And encouraging them to put their own spin on it.
It is pretty amazing -- in the little over two years that the campaign has been going, to see how engagement has grown and to see conversations happening on social media and to see how users are interacting with each other has been great. We do a lot of community events as well, and people come up to us tell us that they're friends with us on Facebook and they think we're awesome or that they think it is really a great message. A community has really developed around the campaign and it is really positive and exactly what we wanted to see happen.
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