Spotlights For Campaigns

MTV Shuga

MTV Shuga fuses sexual-health messaging with gripping storylines exploring the issues of sexual relationships between young people against a backdrop of continuing HIV infections. The campaign’s current collaborators include: MTV Staying Alive Foundation; Positive Action; Children Investment’s Fund Foundation; Marie Stopes International; Department of Basic Education, Republic of South Africa, USAID, PEPFAR, and Linkages.

MTV Shuga was first launched in Kenya in 2009 as a TV show aimed at young people with an associated website. Since 2013, when the show was adapted for Nigeria, the campaign has used a 360-degree mass-media behavior change design which directed young people to, and promoted the use of, HIV-testing and treatment services that were specifically designed for this population. This 360-degree approach meant that MTV Shuga had presence in the places where young people were most active.

The 2013 campaign was disseminated through the following media and communication platforms:

Today, MTV Shuga reaches 118 million people on social media and 7.7 million via global VOD; MTV Shuga YouTube and third party resources. For Season 5, MTV Shuga is set in South Africa, and is intended for ages 16-25 as well, with particular attention to the 16-19 year old age group.


In preparation for Season 5 of MTV Shuga, where the action is set in South Africa, the team collected and reviewed the latest reports and surveillance studies regarding South Africa’s adolescent population, and also held two focus studies with over 3500 young people to ascertain their attitudes and experiences regarding HIV prevention.

Research findings for Season 5 included:

  • South Africa continues to record the largest number of people living with HIV globally with nearly 1 in 5 adults infected (UNAIDS 2015).
  • The HSRC Household survey stated, in respect to the rate of new HIV infections, that, “the high incidence among young women aged 15–24 years is troubling and calls on us to address the associated social factors, such as age-disparate relationships.”

Focus studies were held over two periods – first in November 2015 and then again in June 2016. with a total of 3,618 South African high school youth who had watched Series 4. These young people were polled via a survey of 117 questions designed to assess information in the following areas:

  • HIV stigma
  • Risk
  • Sources of sexual knowledge and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) support
  • Sex, sexuality and relationships
  • Enjoyment and desire to learn
  • Social media and technology use

Some of the focus studies for Season 5 included:

  • At the end of episode 2, 39% of the young people reported that the episodes make them think about their own lives
  • By the end of episode 4, that figure increased to 45%
  • After watching MTV Shuga Season 4 completely, that number increased to 84%
  • 32% of the high school girls surveyed reported that a girl does not have a right to ask a boy to stop kissing her if she no longer wants him to kiss her as seen in MTV Shuga Season 4 in a scene with a young couple
  • 61% of the high school boys and 21% of the girls report that they have already been sexually active
  • 15% of the overall sample of girls reported they have been pregnant
  • 46% of the youth reported that they know at least one girl who has had an abortion, and 19% knew more than five girls who had abortions
  • 61% of the youth reported that their teachers had ‘never’ spoken about contraception and pregnancy prevention
  • Only 12% of girls and boys reported that their parents are their primary source of sexual information, with 44% of boys reporting that they learn the most about sex from internet pornography
  • 25% of boys reported that they had ‘sexually forced’ someone against their will. 18% of girls report being sexually forced by their boyfriends

This focus studies also included questions on what the respondents wanted to learn about. This data helped inform the development of story lines for the Season 5 of MTV Shuga:

  • 71% wanted to learn more about HIV
  • 73% wanted to learn more about relationships
  • 73% wanted to learn more about sex
  • 64% wanted to learn more about alcohol

Design your Strategy

The strategy of the team is based on a multitude of knowledge, attitude, and practice factors. Many of these factors are determined through the focus studies mentioned above under “Inquire.”

In conjunction with their research and findings, the campaign includes the following elements:

  • Provide an entertaining, gripping storyline into which is interwoven themes related to HIV (ie, testing, treatment, living with HIV, condom use, etc), gender-based violence, maternal health, contraception, and a wide array of other sexual and reproductive health issues affecting young people.
  • Tap into all media: radio, online, mobile, digital, and in print.
  • Ensure that the MTV Shuga brand is everywhere that young people go to access vital sexual and reproductive health information.
  • Enable young people to get the help they need through an on-the-ground peer education program, driving them towards mobile testing and existing health services.
  • Make the show iavailable rights-free at no cost to third-party broadcasters.
  • Bring HIV into the minds of the vieweres, and encourage them to reflect on their own behavior.
  • Encourage peer-to-peer conversations, and youth-to-parent conversations.

Create and Test

For MTV Shuga in South Africa, research (reported above in the Inquire section), highlighted the campaign’s potential in the South African context. The series in South Africa is also being designed for the 16-25 year old age group, with particular attention to the 16-19 year old group.

In order to ensure that the show scripts reflect the real-life experience of the intended audience, MTV Shuga holds focus groups to establish the issues that young people face and use those findings to inform the content of the production. By conducting research into the opinions and experiences of the chosen demographic, the team is able to produce hard-hitting, real life content that resonates deeply with young audiences, and allows them to identify with at least one of the many storylines that develop throughout the show. In addition, draft scripts for upcoming campaigns are shared with the focus groups and discussed. The feedback from those focus group discussions is used to refine the scripts that eventually become the final versions.

The South Africa series of the show, Series 5, was launched on March 8, 2017.

Some of the resources listed below are from previous seasons of MTV Shuga, in Nigeria and Kenya.

As new materials are produced from the South Africa campaign, this page will be updated.

One of the many resources on the MTV Shuga website is the Knowledge page, (see image above) where visitors can learn about many aspects of HIV and sexuality.

Mobilize and Monitor

Coinciding with the International AIDS Conference held in Durban between the 18th-22nd July 2016, MTV Shuga launched its campaign for South Africa.

The MTV Staying Alive Foundation and a host of partners staged a special satellite event in honour of MTV Shuga’s latest iteration, named MTV Shuga Down South. In the lead up to the International AIDS Conference, MTV Shuga ran an afternoon of outreach activities targeted at adolescents from the local community.

The event included:

  • A screening of MTV Shuga season four for Durban teenagers
  • Question and answer session with Mohau Cele (an MTV Shuga actress) and Sizwe Dhlomo (a presenter for MTV Base)
  • Panel discussion on the findings of Dr Jim Lees of University of Western Cape which covered data gathered about MTV Shuga’s social impact on behavior and attitudes towards safe sex among South African adolescent girls (15-19 years old).

The launch of the campaign served as the catalyst for the campaign’s subsequent roll-out. In the intermediate period between the project’s launch and the February 28 premiere of the MTV Shuga:Down South drama series, including:

  • MTV Shuga’s digital and social platforms’ increased activity, aiming to produce South African specific content.
  • Important events and competitions were held to stimulate greater levels of awareness and engagement between the South African youth and the MTV Shuga brand:
    • Public auditions were held in Johannesburg for the upcoming series, with over one thousand South Africans attending (see photo below of youth waiting in line for the chance to audition. (Retrieved from MTV Shuga site.)
    • A joint competition with MTV Breaks was opened to aspiring photographers and directors to get exclusive access and opportunities on the MTV Shuga production set. This competition was open to both Nigerians and South Africans.
  • Social media listening was initiated and polling questions sourced (see voting box below, from the MTV Shuga site), which will be used within the drama series itself and in the surrounding campaign.

Polling question from the MTV Shuga site

Promo for the new show

Evaluate and Evolve

The MTV Shuga campaign in South Africa is ongoing. As such, there are no evaluation reports available yet. They will be posted as they become available.

The efficacy of the project in Kenya and Nigeria has been proven through multiple evaluations. Studies carried out by John Hopkins University (commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), the Population Council and the World Bank have all shown the tangible impact of the MTV Shuga brand in Nigeria and Kenya on influencing young people’s behaviors and attitudes when it comes to sexual health and HIV.

Here are the evaluation results from MTV Shuga Seasons 1-4, in Kenya and Nigeria:

Season 1 (Kenya)

Some of the highlights of the Johns Hopkins research included:

  • Among a sample of 1,000 young people in Nairobi; 60% of youth had seen MTV Shuga, and at least half of those had seen it twice or more
  • Young people knew the main issues addressed in the show. Those who saw the program could identify the lessons to be learned
  • Almost 50% (of viewer group participants) talked about the MTV Shuga characters and messages – mainly with close friends, but also with family members and other acquaintances
  • Among the Nairobi youth who were aware of and had seen the campaign and program, over 70% had talked about MTV Shuga’s characters and messages with others
  • Over 90% of the Kenyan participants believed the show had an impact on their thinking
  • Among those who had seen the show in Kenya, 84% said the show had an impact on multiple partners, 85% for HIV testing and 87% about living with HIV
  • Kenyan participants said they were more likely to take an HIV test after watching MTV Shuga

University of Western Cape: In 2013, the University of Western Cape (UWC) published a student-led study that sought to assess both pre- and in-service teacher trainings using MTV Shuga episodes as an entry point for discussions within the teachers’ families in a class assignment on teaching the Life Orientation curriculum (results described anecdotally) and from UWC students. These students were asked 16 questions prior to the viewing (baseline) of MTV Shuga episodes, after the viewing (post-baseline), and after the follow-up and peer-led discussions. Some of the results of the study include:

  • In general, risk awareness of HIV increased as much as 65% from baseline to endline
  • Regarding the efficacy of discussion, those agreeing that “I know enough about HIV” registered 50% at baseline, 45.5% after viewing Shuga, and 5% after the discussion.
  • With regard to stigma, for the statement “People who get HIV deserve to get it. 50% believe that those who have HIV deserved to get it”, the number of students who agreed dropped from 50% to 40% after viewing Shuga and 15% after the follow-up discussion
  • At baseline, 20% believed that alcohol or drugs would influence their behavior to accept unprotected sex; at endline, 87.5% believed that these substances would influence their behavior, putting them at risk
  • At baseline, 47.5% said yes to this statement: “I will not engage myself in unprotected sex because of family problems, money, food, job and the career I want.”
Season 2 (Kenya)

Population Council

In a study by the Population Council comparing the use of MTV Shuga series 2 as an educational device in non-facilitated viewings versus facilitated viewings showed that exposure to the MTV Shuga TV show significantly increased recent HIV testing (<5 months ago; p=0.0024 in control groups, p=0.001 in intervention groups). The intervention group also displayed a significant increase in recent HIV testing from baseline (48%) to endline (62%; p=0.0016).

Season 3 (Nigeria)

World Bank (DIME)

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The World Bank ran a first-of-its-kind, cluster randomized study of the impact of behavior change media on MTV Shuga series 3 in over 5000 young people in Nigeria, with 240 community screenings. This study was unique as it involved collecting biomarkers to measure actual changes in behavior using prevalence of chlamydia as a proxy. The key findings were as follows:

  • MTV Shuga substantially increased HIV testing: Individuals who watched the show were 35% more likely to report getting tested in the last six months – the actual number of people who went for a test 6 months after watching MTV Shuga was nearly twice as high as those in the control group.
  • A 58 percent reduction of chlamydia was seen among females who had watched MTV Shuga from the study.
  • MTV Shuga improved knowledge, attitudes & behaviors related to HIV transmission and testing.
  • Viewers were less likely to have concurrent sexual partners, and also engaged in safer sex with primary and non-primary sexual partners.
  • Viewers liked the TV drama and had good recall of its main messages after 6 months.
Season 4 (Nigeria)

UWC 3600+: University of Western Cape

Approximately 1500 16-24 year olds took part in the survey, 500 for each wave, and the results included:

  • 79% enjoyed MTV Shuga 4 ‘a lot’ (an increase from 47% when asked after viewing just the first two episodes).
  • Three fifths (58%) of young Nigerians, equivalent to 7.4 million people, are aware of the MTV Shuga, and more than one third (36%) or over 4.6 million have watched it.
  • As many as 1.9 million 16-24 year olds are getting tested as a result of MTV Shuga.
  • There was an increase from 39%, to 84% on those who said they would “definitely” be more careful about HIV. 80% said they will be more careful in relationships; 81% more careful about sex; and, 77% more careful about getting pregnant.
  • Viewing MTV Shuga increased young people’s willingness to be involved in a romantic relationship with an HIV+ partner by 72%.
  • 70% report they would like support from their family around HIV, pregnancy and sexual and reproductive health. 67% report they would like more support from their teachers.

Lessons Learned from Previous Campaigns

This is a list of lessons gleaned from the 2009-2016 MTV Shuga campaigns:

  • Given the demonstrated positive impact of entertainment education media, it is important to focus attention on how to take it to scale with multiple strategies to maximize reach and access, e.g., no-cost offer of programs to third-party broadcasters; selection of broadcast times to match viewer density for age target; placement on web platforms to facilitate on-demand viewing; and engagement of celebrities in the media content.
  • Entertainment education programs developed for TV can broaden their reach to rural areas with low TV access by using the same objectives, SBCC content, and messages and adapting the delivery for use on radio platforms.
  • Social media can be used as a one-way or promotional toolset and as a two-way or an interactive audience engagement toolset. In pushing the toolsets for maximum strategic engagement, the lines between one-way and two-way are often overlapping.
  • The use of celebrities and especially rising local stars is a good strategy for building audiences, increasing the desire of viewers to affiliate with the characters and, by extension, increasing message receptivity and therefore their inclusion in program content is an important consideration. MTV Shuga places great significance on remaining modern and up-to-date with the latest music, cultural and fashion trends. This is reflected in the choice of music in the show itself, as well as the musicians who are recruited to make cameo appearances throughout the series.
  • Co-development of media content with members of the intended audience is valuable for increasing authenticity and appropriateness of script language and content, including most current concerns and trends.
  • Audience affiliation with characters, their loyalty to the show, and consequent receptivity to the SBCC messaging embedded in these characters’ roles must be given consideration in decision-making processes on program content and changes. Establishing mechanisms for feedback of this nature must therefore be embedded in the program development process.
  • Social norms must be given consideration in decision-making, while still incorporating forward-thinking strategies of challenging and shifting them through the influence of SBCC on youth culture over time.
  • Audience relationship to the characters of entertainment education media can be strengthened through open casting via local auditions and subsequent voting by audience members. Web-based and mobile-phone-accessible polls are another form of two-way engagement.
  • Deployment and capacity development of Peer Educators to facilitate dialogue around entertainment education content is a powerful strategy for facilitating more personal engagement of audiences around the behavior change messages embedded in the media content.
  • Tours and festivals and related promotion for these events (e.g., competitions, promotional giveaways) are another way of increasing audience engagement and providing an opportunity for dissemination of materials and linkage to actual service delivery (e.g., HIV testing and help hotlines).
  • Comic books can deliver the plot and SBCC objectives to a youth audience and can diverge in ways that might challenge social norms regulated for TV audiences.
  • Materials to guide Peer Educators can support their decisions around sexuality and HIV in order to increase their ability to provide interpersonal behavior change support for others.
  • Finding a broad and ever-expanding partnership base – especially by focusing on those working in areas of need, both population groups and localities, and by developing links to government agencies and programs – ensures program sustainability and a deepening outreach.

Date of Publication: April 20, 2022