Hoping to more effectively appeal to the disproportionate number of Latino men affected by the HIV epidemic, ViiV Healthcare has debuted the first Spanish-language spot for an HIV treatment. The ad, for HIV drug Dovato, started airing across a broad range of media late last month.

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent HIV Surveillance Report, the overall trend of reduced HIV infection rates has largely bypassed gay and bisexual Latino men. They’ve experienced a 16% increase in the number of cases during the last 10 years, according to ViiV Healthcare head of U.S. external affairs Marc Meachem.

“The epidemic in the U.S. has been characterized by enduring racial disparities,” he said. “There’s silence and a lack of visibility around HIV in the Latino community. The ad is part of what we’re doing to break that silence and end the stigma.”

Over the course of the 40-year epidemic, the stigma associated with HIV has proven tough to crack, among all ethnicities but particularly among Latinos. That’s why Guillermo Chacón, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS, considers the Spanish-language ad and the larger ViiV campaign, “Everything I Am,” so significant.

“It doesn’t use actors, but people who are actually living with HIV,” he said. “That’s so important, because it humanizes the realities and challenges they face… Having this campaign in mainstream Spanish language media in priority markets will help us spark a conversation.”

The conversation around the stigma associated with HIV hasn’t transpired often enough, and the campaign is designed to prompt discussions among various groups. The first “Everything I Am” ad featured a Black woman living with virus, while the next two featured a Black gay man and a white gay man, respectively.

“The stigma of HIV — it’s something you’re not supposed to talk about, so people were really elated,” Meachem said.

The campaign is distinguished by its attention to nuance. When compiling “Here As I Am: A Listening Initiative with Latinx Gay and Bisexual Men Affected by HIV,” a research report released last September, ViiV’s brand team sat down with Latinos living in California and Puerto Rico and along the Texas border. Among the insights gleaned during those conversations included a preference for the use of “Latinx” instead of “Latino.”

“That’s the term they associated with,” Meachem recalled. “The details matter.”

It’s worth noting, too, that the Spanish language Dovato spots are being aired during primetime across a range of well-viewed mainstream programming. This in itself represents another step forward, Chacón said.

“It’s not something you’ll just see at two in the morning,” he explained. “That sends a powerful message — not just to viewers, but also to pharma and the federal government. If we truly want to make a difference, this is the right way to do it.”

Of course, a single Spanish-language spot within a larger campaign after nearly four decades of English-first communication may fairly be considered a small gesture. But Chacón is thinking big, calling on the Department of Health and Human Services and the Biden Administration for a greater commitment to addressing the HIV epidemic’s outsized effect on Latinos.

“The broader community has a clear path to ending HIV in the U.S.,” he said. “But for Latinos, they need to go deeper. The only way to address diversity is to include much more ethnic media in your marketing engagements.”

Meachem, for his part, stressed that ViiV views the Spanish-language “Everything I Am” spot as another step in the right direction.

“We are always looking to convey the diversity of the epidemic and the diversity of the population affected,” he said, pointing to the company’s well-regarded “Being Seen” podcast, which chronicles the gay and queer Black male experience, as an example. “We’re going to focus on representing the range of people with HIV and continue to focus on disparities within the community.”