Love Sex? Love Condoms! The NSW Festivals Initiative

Love Sex? Love Condoms! The NSW Festivals Initiative

HIV Australia | Vol. 11 No. 1 | March 2013

BROOKE SHEPHERD profiles a sexual health outreach program that is taking sexual health messages out on the road.


The NSW Festival Initiative (the Initiative) is a program led by the NSW Sexually Transmissible Infections Programs Unit (STIPU) in a partnership with HIV/AIDS and Related Programs (HARP) Health Promotion teams across NSW, Family Planning NSW and the NSW Sexual Health Infoline.

The Initiative is based on the Get Tested, Play Safe (GTPS) campaign, a 2009 NSW Ministry of Health statewide advertising campaign aimed at increasing awareness of issues relating to sexually transmissible infections (STI) testing, treatment and prevention among heterosexual young people aged 16–24 years old.

GTPS focused on supporting behavior change regarding visiting general practitioners and improving young peoples’ skills in relation to sexual health communication and prevention practices.

In 2011, in acknowledgement of the unique environment of festivals, a pilot Festivals Initiative was developed to extend the reach of the campaign and further engage directly with the target audience.

The Initiative focused two aims of the GTPS campaign for its mission statement: ‘Improve young heterosexual people’s skill in relation to sexual health communication and prevention practices.’

A second GTPS campaign objective, ‘To increase awareness of the importance of using condoms to prevent STIs’, was also identified as the most appropriate in delivering suitable social marketing strategies in a festival environment.

Why festivals?

With marketers constantly looking for ways to build relationships with the youth segment, traditional channels (TV, radio and print) of reaching a target audience are shifting. Marketers have discovered that they have to reach out to young people in new and innovative ways.

For a message to resonate with young people, it must be taken to them – to skate parks, concerts, clubs, shopping malls, and sporting events – in order to be heard.1

Music festivals tap into the youth market’s desire for experiential activity and are therefore well placed to promote and reinforce social marketing messages.2

This is a space that typically attracts a sub-population of young people that are at a higher risk of STIs than the broader population of 16–24 year olds.3 They are also a population that may engage in other social practices that are associated with increased levels of risk such as illicit drug use and unsafe alcohol consumption.4

Music festivals also provide an ideal platform to develop partnerships between the health and entertainment sectors for aligning congruent messages, accessing target audiences en masse and value adding to the experience of the festival-goer.5

Further, this group – often referred to as ‘Gen Y’ – are defined by their love of experimentation, innovation, technology and collaboration.6 They are image conscious and place importance on belonging. Young people may feel comfortable socialising in large groups, and may have a somewhat looser definition of what it means to be a friend.7

Gen Y has grown up with technology.8 The exponential rise in popularity of online social media and social networking sites among this group highlights the necessity for marketers to access audiences through these means.9

In Australia alone, there are currently over 12,000,000 Facebook users, with 25% aged between 18–24 years.10

In the lead up to and across the music festival season, the level of engagement with websites, social media and social networking sites associated with music festivals rises exponentially.So, while 60,000 people may attend a particular music festival in Sydney, 190,000 may engage with that same event through its Facebook page.


To engage with the festival goers appropriately, it is important that the health promotion messages become an intrinsic part of the festival experience. ‘Love Sex? Love Condoms!’ was adopted as the festival brand, increasing the prominence of the condom use message.

GTPS graphics were used in order to echo the original campaign advertising and take advantage of the reach that the GTPS campaign achieved.


Festival partnerships have two components, acquisition and activation.

Acquisition rights refer to partnering with the music festival promoter, providing access to festival co-branding, online messaging through social media engagement, data and online evaluation channels.

Examples include co-branding and messaging on festival posters, flyers, banners, ticketing, lanyards and entry/exit signage at the festivals and running promotional activities in the lead up to the event.

Activation rights refer to targeted community engagement activities – online via the festival Facebook pages or at the festival event itself. All of the festival partnerships to date have utilised a range of acquisition and activation strategies to promote the ‘Love Sex? Love Condoms!’ message.

Both elements of the festival partnership (acquisition and activation) offer the project with an excellent co-branding opportunity. Festival attendance ranges from 15,000– 75,000 and online engagement from 150,000–400,000.

Since the NSW Festivals Initiative commenced in 2011, partnerships have been formed at four festivals, three based in Sydney and one in the Hunter, with a fifth partnership currently underway.

Project elements

Our major engagement strategy at the events is the ‘Love Sex? Love Condoms!’ operating booth. At this site, health promotion staff, sexual health nurses and peer educators engage festival goers in a range of activities to debunk myths about condom use, STI testing and to encourage talking about sexual health with friends and partners.

This includes a life-sized interactive game that allows festival goers to engage with sexual health and STIs in a fun and humorous manner, an information booth that distributes condoms and other relevant sexual health information and a range of sexy carnival style-cutouts where festival goers can photograph each other.

The Festival Facebook Newsfeeds connects members of the target audience who didn’t interact with the campaign onsite, or who didn’t attend the event. In addition, a simple website ( has been developed to allow festival goers and other interested young people to assess their sexual health risk and is used in the lead up to festival events as well as engagements at the event.


Sexual health promotion messaging in the festival environment has been very well received. Since the commencement of the project, there has been a trend of increased visibility of campaign messaging across the festivals.

The Initiative appears to be relevant, costpeffective, appropriate and increasingly visible in the festival environment to increase awareness of the importance of using condoms to prevent STIs and pathways for information and testing.

The Initiative is currently developing a survey instrument in order to undertake further evaluation. This will include capturing the characteristics of young people attending festivals, including their exposure and engagement, their understanding of the messages and the potential effect of the initiative on their sexual behaviours.This will allow a more tailored approach to the activities.

The festival space offers an innovative and unique platform for positive brand alignment and large-scale exposure to young people right across NSW, not only for those who attend the event on the day but also for those large numbers of people who engage with festivals and messaging online.

The audiences attending festivals are a group who tend to engage in risky sexual practices and we must continue to work with this population in order to achieve longer term change in social practices.


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3 Lim, M., Hellard, M., Aitken, C., Hocking, J. (2009). Surveillance of STI risk behaviour among young people attending a music festival in Australia, 2005–08. Aust and NZ J Public Health 33(5), 482–484. doi:10.1111/j.1753-6405.2009.00434.x

4 Lim, M., Hellard, M., Aitken, C., Hocking. J. (2008). A cross-sectional survey of young people attending a music festival: associations between drug use and musical preference. Drug and Alcohol Review, 27(4), 439–441. DOI:10.1080/09595230802089719

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9 Williams, K., Page, R. (2012). Marketing to the generations. J Behavioral Studies in Business, Volume 3, April 2011, 8–10. Retrieved from:

10 Social Bakers. (2012). Australian Facebook Statistics. Retrieved July 7 2012 from:

Brooke Shepherd is Manager of the Health Promotion Resources Project at NSW STI Programs Unit.