STI testing campaign goes viral

RHP-TrexWeek_1
Photo by Drew Henderson.

Last February’s “Get tested” campaign was meant to get students thinking about their sexual health — a recent “Get tasered” knock-off had less serious aims.

The flyer’s sarcastic message, intended only to entertain passersby, refers to recent events: the tasing of a student at the Morse-Stiles Screw on October 2. But its design has a longer history. It was adapted from flyers that promoted sexual health with the message “Get tested” during Sex Week at Yale 2010, last February. This is at least the fifth spin-off of the original Sex Week poster, and students involved in the “Get tested” campaign are now wondering how long the copycats will last.

Students who worked with Reproductive Rights Action League of Yale College (RALY) on the design said they are honored by the imitation but that its overuse may be diminishing its effect.

“The number of spin-offs has reached a critical capacity where it’s no longer being done where it gives respect to the original campaign,” said Jared Shenson ’12, who created the original design. (Shenson is a former production and design editor for the News.)

THE CONCEPT

Former RALY co-presidents Jessica Moldovan ’11 and Madeleine Rafferty ’10 decided in October 2009 to work on a Sex Week campaign encouraging students to get tested for sexually transmitted infections. The campaign was partially modeled after MTV’s “Get Yourself Tested” series, Moldovan said, but she added that RALY wanted to focus on getting as many students as possible photographed in the designs.

“We really wanted to make sure that everyone on campus could identify with someone in one of the posters,” she said.

RALY approached Maya Creative, a Yale undergraduate advertising organiation, with these ideas for a design in late fall 2009. Beside the words “Get tested,” they wanted each poster to include a student’s photograph, holding up a sign saying “I DID” and the student’s signature.

Maya put RALY in touch with Shenson, who created the final product: black and white photographs of students standing against a brick wall in Pierson College and holding a colored sign with the handwritten words “I DID.” Shenson said he believes the ultimate success of the campaign lies partly in the design’s simplicity, which brings an individual face to each flyer but emphasizes the common message through the use of color.

More than 50 students and three faculty members participated in the campaign, and their contributions gave it a personal touch, Moldovan said. The fact that they were pictured individually underscored that each person should take responsibility for his or her sexual health, she added.

“The goal of the campaign went beyond just the physically getting tested,” she said. “We wanted to erase the stigma of getting tested.”

THE DESIGN GOES VIRAL

Within a week, the design had appeared across campus, only this time advertising for a different cause.

Jon Wu ’11, former rush manager and current director for the sketch comedy group Red Hot Poker, said the group used the idea to advertise its Sex Week show, entitled “Tyrannosaurus Rex Week.” Their version included a black and white dinosaur against a brick background, holding up a sign saying “I DIED.” Red Hot Poker normally parodies pop culture trends and events in its ads for shows, Wu said, but this was the first time the group had picked something from Yale.

“I was in the ‘Get tested’ campaign, so it just made sense to parody it at the time,” Wu said. “It was very prominent at the time.”

But for other groups, the goal of mimicing the RALY design was not to be funny but rather to attain the same level of success.

Student members of STEP, the Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership, had been looking for a promotional design to encourage trayless dining and cut down on associated food waste, co-director Olivia Rogan ’12 said. After seeing the positive reception to the “Get tested” poster, STEP decided to follow suit.

“The ‘Get tested’ campaign was already really public and very visible,” Rogan said. “We knew if we followed up on it people would talk about it.”

STEP’s “Go trayless” campaign, conducted through Facebook profile pictures instead of printed flyers, featured residential college STEP coordinators holding up empty trays saying “I DID.” Rogan said the campaign has been so successful in spreading the trayless cause that students not involved in STEP have asked to be photographed for their own Facebook profiles.

The design also made its way into last spring’s Yale College Council election: current YCC President Jeff Gordon ’12 asked supporters to take photos in the same style and upload the finished designs, with the slogan “Vote Jeff Gordon,” as their Facebook profile pictures.

Wu, Rogan and Gordon all said they had not seen other spin-off posters when their respective groups decided to adopt the RALY design. But, Rogan said she has been contacted by students who are interested in using the design for their own causes.

Although Moldovan said she was initially shocked to see the diversity of causes that adopted the idea, she added that she has found the spin-offs “flattering.” Still, she said, she liked some of the imitations better than others.

“In the context of dinosaurs, [saying “I Died”] is funny,” she said. “In the context of sexual health, that’s definitely not funny.”

IS THE JOKE OVER?

Shenson said he feels honored as a designer to have created something so flexible, but he added that he has mixed feelings toward the individual spin-offs.

“Some of the groups have ripped it off just to rip off the design because they know people are going to look at the posters,” he said. “That’s really disheartening to the designer.”

For example, Shenson said he thinks the “Get tested” design was well-suited to STEP’s trayless cause, but he said he thought the “Get tasered” posters were in particularly bad taste.

Shenson, Gordon and a student who considered employing the design but decided not to said the conceit has been used so many times that it is losing its punch.

“I wouldn’t make a poster campaign based on it this year,” Gordon said. “I think it’s been overused at this point after the parody ones.”

The Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project considered using the “Get tested” idea in preparation for their upcoming fast but ultimately decided against it, Jennifer Friedmann ’13 said in an e-mail to the News.

“There have been so many groups to use that design that they’re starting to blend together,” she said.

Still, Moldovan said she thinks the numerous spin-offs haven’t diluted the original message advocating for sexual health.

“When I see any of those [spin-off] posters, my initial reaction is still ‘Get tested’,” she said.

Comments

  • rachelwolf

    The “Get tested./I Did.” slogan has definitely become a meme, but “viral” seems an overstatement. The scale possible in offline distribution just doesn’t compare to real viral campaigns.

  • FailBoat

    @rachelwolf:

    Viral marketing precedes the internet. Especially in a small community, the internet is not particularly integral to the transmission of memes.

  • wlys

    @failboat

    True, but this is not viral. While the idea itself has a somewhat viral approach (my super cool friends got an STD test? So should I! Then I’ll be super cool…), the replication of it by other groups on campus is not.

    [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viral_marketing][1]

    [1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viral_marketing

  • spiderjerk2

    std’s have gone viral

  • jnewsham

    I lmao’d at the T-Rex one. But yeah, three spinoffs doesn’t constitute “going viral,” and not really front-page news…

  • murphytemple

    Guys, it’s a joke. STIs…viral…
    Not the best joke, but really? You didn’t get it?