NEW YORK: One man had his first one at a library. For another, it happened at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. And for a third, it happened at Nicole Greenbaum’s bat mitzvah.
The “it” the men are describing in a new public service announcement is an erection, or as the campaign says, a “boner.”
The men of different ages and ethnicities share what their erections meant to them during a video aimed at encouraging men to get a COVID-19 vaccine by humorously warning them that the virus can cause erectile dysfunction.
The video features urologists, as well as comedian and former “Saturday Night Live” actor Tim Meadows.
“We feel pretty strongly that there haven’t been that many breakthrough, powerful vaccination campaigns that people can really share and enjoy,” said Brian Siedband, cofounder of Quality Meats, an advertising agency based in Chicago and Austin, Texas. “We wanted to make something that people would enjoy and that might diffuse the tension a little bit.”
Not everyone was turned on by the idea of mixing COVID-19 and heartfelt memories of erections.
Siedband and fellow cofounder Gordy Sang generated the idea while working on a vaccination campaign for a health department in a state with a Republican-controlled legislature, they said. Their contacts at the state, which the creatives declined to name, asked them to develop a campaign that would help them reach Generation Z.
Sang and Siedband learned that COVID survivors may be six times more likely to develop erectile dysfunction, according to a study in the medical journal Andrology.
“We were like, ‘oh my God.’ That needs to be shouted from the mountain tops because that’s such a powerful stat,” said Sang, whose clients have included Taco Bell and Netflix.
Sang felt that a PSA focused on the risk of erectile dysfunction might resonate with males who have a “certain machismo” and aren’t getting vaccinated.
“They loved the idea but since they have a Republican legislature, they are already ruffling feathers with vaccinations, let alone talking about boners,” Sang recalled.
In spite of the rejection, the Quality Meats founders did not give up on the idea. Instead, they took the unusual route of finding a client for their campaign, rather than the other way around. They reached out to companies and sexual medicine organizations and received a tepid response. They also reached out to urologists through friends and direct messages on Twitter.
Meanwhile, rapper Nicki Minaj was working in the opposite direction on social media. She tweeted that she would not get vaccinated until she had done enough research and claimed that a friend of her cousin had developed swollen testicles and become impotent after getting a COVID vaccine.
“His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding,” Minaj wrote. “So just pray on it and make sure you’re comfortable with your decision, not bullied.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, and other physicians have said there was no evidence of such a side effect.
“The urologists may have been a little fired up about” the Minaj claim and were very excited about the campaign idea, said Sang.
Sang and Siedband, who started working together in 2008, decided to fund the project themselves. They reached out to actor friends. The PSA’s director, Brad Morris, was friendly with Tim Meadows, and the actor agreed to participate.
Meadows is perhaps best known for his former “SNL” character Leon Phelps, The Ladies Man.
While Phelps is certainly an authority on erections, that wasn’t the main reason they wanted Meadows for the part.
“We didn’t want to lean too heavily into the comedy,” said Sang. Instead they wanted “someone who could play the bit straighter but also bring some fun improv and comedic elements.”
Siedband added, “We actually really liked his dry comedy.”
So think more of Meadows' role as the principal in “Mean Girls,” than Phelps, radio host and owner of piña colada butt lotion.
“If I couldn’t have one, it would be devastating and kind of boring,” Meadows said in the PSA.
Quality Meats also formed a group, Urologists United for Vaccination Education, and got 17 urologists to join the campaign.
Three of them appear in the video and explain the data.
“I’m sorry, what?” Meadows said in the PSA after hearing the statistic. “What are you guys doing? Go get the vaccine. We’re talking about your future boners here.”
The PSA crew also included the third Quality Meats cofounder, Kacey Hart, as executive producer and the production company The BMP Film Co. Five more urologists have also reached out, wanting to join the Urologists United group, Sang said.
“At first blush, it looks like a lot of the people in the medical field are sharing it and are supportive of it, and we’re just hoping that can snowball a little bit,” Siedband said.
Sang said the campaign was a welcome break from their usual work.
“We work on a lot of brands. We have to sell tacos. We have to do a lot of things where we don’t have this opportunity where great creative can” put “positive messages out into the world,” Sang said. “That gets us excited.”