When it comes to improving HIV prevention and treatment, empowering patients to advocate for their health is a crucial component.

Several health brands and pharma companies dedicated to advancing care in this therapeutic area have gone to market this year with an aim of providing patients with accurate medical information, accessible resources and effective medications.

Notably, these organizations have leveraged partnerships with prominent voices and entertainers within the LGBTQIA+ community.

Just last week, Gilead Sciences collaborated with Jason Rodriguez, star of FX’s Pose, for a dance-themed HIV prevention event.

Months before that, ViiV Healthcare rolled out Backseat Hotseat, a campaign to normalize conversations about HIV prevention, with the help of comedians Phoebe Robinson and Matteo Lane.

Over the course of three videos set in ride-sharing vehicles, the pair drive six individuals and engage in fun, thoughtful and personal conversations about things like dating and HIV prevention.

Bithiah LaFontant, head of ViiV corporate affairs, told MM+M that three more episodes of Backseat Hotset are set to be released and that while there aren’t immediate plans for a second season, that could always change depending on audience feedback.

She added that this topic, while necessary to discuss with friends and family, often suffers from a taboo and stigmatization in the general public.

That’s why the decision to build a campaign around two comedians was key to break down barriers to conversation and have people cut to the chase — all with a sense of humor.

When it comes to marketing, ViiV takes a multifaceted approach to make sure no one in its target audience feels left out. This means the brand uses a variety of different messages, messengers, channels and tones — both serious and lighthearted — to get the word out.

She also acknowledged that while the broader media landscape is fragmented to begin with, the LGBTQIA+ community also has its own preferred media channels and values representation when it comes to marketing geared towards it.

“This is about finding the balance and trying to make sure that we are reaching people with different kinds of messages,” she said. “For some people, a kind of lighter comedy message might be something that cuts through the clutter and is something that they pay attention to.”

While LaFontant said the campaign has been well-received, anecdotally speaking, she said data indicates that the patient populations disproportionately impacted by HIV infections aren’t having these conversations as readily as they should. 

This, she noted, coupled with the lack of uptake for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is holding the community back from benefiting from advances in HIV care.

“We think we’re moving in the right direction, but unfortunately, there still is a lot of work to do. As much as we do, HIV stigma remains with us,” she said.

She added that the issue is twofold: some individuals don’t think about HIV or how to avoid catching it and some healthcare professionals aren’t proactively engaging with patients who are more at-risk of contracting the virus.

Since Backseat Hotseat is a consumer-facing effort, ViiV’s mission is to encourage patients to have these uncomfortable conversations with their doctors in order to get the protection they need. This could either be through a daily oral PrEP pill or long-acting injectable option.