Milwaukee’s teen pregnancy and STI rates are three times that of the national average.
With that disheartening statistic in mind, two local organizations – agency Cramer-Krasselt and non-profit Diverse & Resilient – have begun working together to drive those numbers down.
How? By creating a line of free condoms, called Naughty Bags, and distributing them throughout communities where many at-risk teens live.
The creative team at Cramer-Krasselt began working on Naughty Bags, as a pro-bono project, when they learned that Milwaukee-area teens were significantly more likely to contract preventable STIs and unwanted pregnancies than their peers in other parts of the state or country. “We know they’re having sex, that abstinence-only programs aren’t preventing them from doing it,” says Ned Brown, the Group Creative Director of Cramer-Krasselt. “So the question becomes: How can we keep them safe?
Brown and his colleagues quickly realized that traditional awareness campaigns – billboards, ad spots on the TV or the radio – weren’t working, because young adults see that sort of messaging so often that it doesn’t resonate with them anymore.
So they got creative. They scheduled focus groups with area teenagers. They asked them about potential barriers to safe sex and learned that, while young adults generally understand the benefits of using condoms, they don’t all have reliable access to them. And many fear reaching out to authority figures who might scold or punish them.
“They know that protection is important, but they don’t want to be told to use it,” Brown says. “A lot of them didn’t like going into the nurse’s office at school because they knew they’d get a lecture, and they didn’t want that.”
This meant that, to begin reducing teen STI and pregnancy rates, they needed to find a way to make sure that teens have access to contraception when they need it.
Fortunately, they found out that Diverse & Resilient, a local non-profit dedicated to improving the well-being of Wisconsin’s LGBTQ community, had been providing free condoms to young Milwaukeeans for four years, through a program called 414All. And Diverse & Resilient was eager to collaborate with a local agency on the creation of a condom brand that would appeal to at-risk area youth.
So Cramer-Krasselt set about designing the condoms’ wrappers and packaging. In conversation with the young people in their focus groups, they also created a series of pun-y labels for the condoms, like “Papa Stopper” and “Surge Protector.”
And Diverse & Resilient reached out to local businesses that teens visit frequently, like barber shops, to invite them to start distributing Naughty Bags. They also leveraged social media platforms, to spread news of Naughty Bags to target audiences.
Now, the condoms are available in locations throughout the city – some can be found in clearly marked dispensers, others in discretely packaged old newspaper boxes. And both organizations intend to ramp up their outreach efforts in the coming year, to make the condoms even more accessible.
“With the program launched,” says Anthony Harris, Program Coordinator for Diverse & Resilient, “our next steps are to continue to increase distribution of the Naughty Bags product as well as continue to increase awareness of the campaign. The more young people who know about this campaign and where they can access the condoms, the better chances we have of further lowering the teen pregnancy rates as well as the teen STI rates.”