Friday, December 10, 2010

Do you find the new HIV ad campaign from the NYC Dept of Public Health offensive?

Watch and see what you think....

Is it helpful to paint the lives of people living with HIV as a horror show?

Is it honest?

Will it encourage people to get tested?

Will it encourage people to stay safe?

Will it further polarize HIV neg and HIV pos people?

[If an item is not written by an IRMA member, it should not be construed that IRMA has taken a position on the article's content, whether in support or in opposition.]


Scott said...

At first, I thought this ad was a joke. Really, it is so wrong, on so many levels, in so many capacities, that it was difficult to believe it was created as a serious HIV-prevention effort. I mean, REALLY?!?!?! With all of the solid research that has been done about HIV prevention---what works and what does not. And all of the excellent behavior change and motivation research that exists. And this is what they came up with? Were they trying to show how NOT to do prevention? Were they trying to show how to DE-movtivate individuals to protect themselves and others? Very sad. Yes, we know fear works to change behavior, at the beginning of an epidemic and for a short period of time. But that time passed many years ago. I suppose taxpayer money was used to support this. We need to ask for our money back.

Anonymous said...

Anne said...
Watching this video, one would think only men contract HIV. To answer your questions -

Is it helpful to paint the lives of people living with HIV as a horror show? Quite the contrary, it is misrepresentative of the thousands of people living carefully and living well. This will add to stigmatization and stereotyping.

Is it honest? While it is true that the diseases noted may occur in HIV positive people more often than negative, it is not a guarantee and osteoporosis and dementia affect many negative people.

Will it encourage people to get tested? No. It doesn't even mention testing. The writers missed an opportunity to encourage testing. Further, if they had included it, the message would have overridden by the doom/gloom narrator voice and frenetic editing.

Will it encourage people to stay safe? Maybe certain males, but again, they left out females, couples, etc. therefore, they're paying to exclude many people in a very important campaign opportunity.

Will it further polarize HIV neg and HIV pos people? Undoubtedly!

tnmarky said...


It's quite laughable in that it's imagery and production is so hackneyed and over the top with distraught actor/models in soap advertisement poses.

Do I think we need to find ways to meaningfully communicate the real ways contracting HIV will affect people's lives in the second decade of this century? YES. Can it be done with soundbites? NO.

I think this clip fails because it never encourages thought (about how they can reduce their risk).

I think it fails because its spin on the science is sketchy at best and definitely visually dishonest.

I think it fails because it doesn't mention testing.

It also fails because it does nothing to encourage those who already know they're positive to get into or stay engaged with ongoing care.

Finally, I think it fails because it follows a half-century old model (trying to motivate folks to avoid pleasurable behavior now in order to avoid health consequences that are unlikely to manifest for decades) that failed to reduce smoking then and will fail to reduce HIV incidence now.

How about serving the full gamut of prevention goals with a mixed bag of first person vignettes from people living with HIV/AIDS who get real about their frustrations and successes?

jairo said...

The ad specifically targets gay men in NYC because they make up the bulk of HIV infections there. The makers were not trying to reach the full diversity of people who are at risk, they are very clear that this campaign is designed for gay men.

By the way, gay men are part of "couples" too - most HIV infections among gay men in the U.S. happen in the context of relationships, not unlike women....

Anonymous said...

In response to "By the way, gay men are part of "couples" too - most HIV infections among gay men in the U.S. happen in the context of relationships, not unlike women....",there was no intent on my part to exclude gay male couples, I fully recognize that is so and apologize for putting a misinterpretation in play. As to the design of the campaign, it seems to me that including women would have been good use of the money spent and take the emphasis off of how HIV was previously viewed as a gay man's disease. It reintroduces that concept. The exclusion of women hurts both groups.

jairo said...

To be clear - am not defending this campaign at all. But most campaigns that work are targeted - generalized campaigns - x,y,z are at risk - tend to miss the folks who need to see it - because the scope is too broad.

Mark S. King said...

This spot is scarier than the Black Swan trailer! I thought maybe it was a new, darker Twilight sequel at first.

It's unproductive and ridiculous, of course. And as has been mentioned, there's to "call to action" at all, much less to get tested, which should be primary.

When will we learn? Scare tactics stopped working for gay men when weekly funerals ended. So what, today, is the real risk?

I say, MONEY. Share facts about something that has meaning to their lives today -- their pocketbook. Do you know how many nice dinners, trips to Macys and expensive cocktails I forgo in order to pay for my health insurance and my HIV meds? Quite a lot, my friend!

Mark S. King

Skip said...

Fear, guilt, shame have been the motivators for HIV prevention since the very beginning. While potent motivators (ask most religious leaders), it has been apparent for a very long time that they no longer work. This is why our New Prevention Technologies are so groundbreaking, they accentuate the positive and reinforce the human need for intimacy.

CBinKY said...

This ad is insanely polarizing and nonproductive. While progress has been slowly made at reducing stigma associated with HIV infection, this ad sets that progress back tremendously.

While prevention ads are necessary for awareness and education of the uninfected, this type of ad paints those already infected as some type of psychotic/mentally unstable leper. Basically they have sacrificed the already weak social acceptance of HIV positive persons in lieu of very bad attempt at scaring uninfected people into condom use.

(I am not even going to go into the cause of anal cancer being possibly associated with HPV)

Andre Ceranto said...

When I watched it, it reminded me a horror movie trailer.
I agree with the message, HIV is much more complex that just HIV itself, it has a lot of other staff that come with it, like: depression, health concerns, stigma, discrimination, will I ever have sex again, find a boyfriend who accepted me how I'm, should I tell people when having sex, can I go to jail if I don't disclose, and the list goes on and on...
But c'mom, there is much more effective ways to get the same message accross without being fear based.
This is ridiculous and unacceptable and I bet it won't be effective, or even will just stigmatise even more PHA's as a bag of disease.

BigDavid said...

What I find most offensive is the way the post is headlined to ensure a negative response to the ad campaign- "Don't you find this offensive? If not, then you must not be sensitive to gay men's health needs, or as just as stupid as those jerks at the NYC DPH!!" We are all allowed our own opinions, but anytime I see something that start's out with "Don't you find this offensive....?" I immediately think of the push survey tactics often used by the right wing to make anything their opponents say or do look wrong.
So the ad falls back on the one know motivation for short term behavior change among gay men who don't know the serious side of HIV- FEAR. And we know that any behavior change brought about by FEAR is short lived until, at most, the person figures out that those consequences are not going to happen to them tomorrow, or the next day, next month or next year while the advantages of hot, bare sex are immediate and mind numbing. But at least it is an attempt to wake up people in our community who have become so complacent about HIV/AIDS that they think it is a walk in the park with no significant consequences and plenty of more immediate benefits (sic). Let's try to be more respectful of each other, even if we don't agree with the tactics being used in a particular campaign to get through AIDS complacency, we shouldn't blame the NYC DPH for trying.

Jim de IRMA said...

The NYC DPH SHOULD absolutely be blamed for "trying" - they know better, or are supposed to know better. They need to be held accountable.

Was there ANY community input on this? And if so, from whom?

We can keep it real re: the realities of living with HIV without turning gay men with HIV into diseased and demented lepers, can't we?

Do we need to scare the shit out of folks at risk who need to know their status - but don't want their lives to be a horror show so may choose denial instead?

And the question in the post was "do you find this offensive" - not "don't" - just saying.

Awful use of taxpayer funds.

Timothy said...

Well, it's not very well done.

But I think they have identified an issue re: perception among some gay men that the result of HIV infection is "you just take a pill"

Getting beyond that perception doesn't in and of itself motivate young gay men to avoid HIV, but if you *don't* get around that perception, you can't start any type of productive education/empowerment process.

As a young man on one of our advisory groups said recently - - "When you open a magazine aimed at gay men, and the first thing you see is a full-page ad where some attractive model says "Now, managing my HIV-infection is easier than ever" . . . because of a once-a-day pill... you wonder what all the fuss is about...."

So, I'd say they defined an appropriate issue, but the delivery was WAY off (the thigh-bone breaking on the dance floor because of osteoporosis was *classically* bad!)

Gary said...

Scare tactics seldom work, or they work just not in the way you want them to work.

Article on Jezebel lays out how scare tactics often do not work ---

Is it honest? No, other posters have articulated that already as it is no guarantee that you'll get anal cancer, dementia, etc if you contract HIV.

Will it encourage people to get tested? No. No mention of testing anywhere in the ad nor how to protect yourself and more importantly why to protect yourself.

This ad reminds me of the hep c billboards that were all over Baltimore (and perhaps elsewhere --- not sure if it was a national campaign) as well as the anti-drug ads. Were those helpful? Hmmm, seems not to have been around B'more.

With the ad being the end product of this social marketing campaign, I'm more interested in what work was done during the creation process. Lit review on successful campaigns? Focus groups? Stakeholder interviews?

guscairns said...

OK: Firstly, fear can work (look at smoking campaigns) and secondly one day soon HIV, stigma apart, WILL be about taking one pill a day.
Fear won't work here, though, because a) people want to stop smoking but they don't want to stop having sex and b) this is so over the top people won't believe it.
Those points apart,maybe the best way to deal with this is ridicule and we should nominate our favourite moment. (The gross-out ass shot is excluded, because everyone will nominate that.)
I love the frying brain sound effect at 00:17 and the Bad Despair Acting at 00:25.

Garland said...

Well … damn. I must have missed the memo.

Clearly, provoking fear and stigma has been determined to be an ethical and effective public health intervention. What this video demonstrates is that the failure of past public health interventions is due to their being insufficiently terrorizing and divisive. We certainly need the remnants of our vibrant and supportive communities — still experiencing profound institutional discrimination and shell-shocked from the horror and loss of so many of our brothers — to be further fragmented and encouraged to react from visceral fear. Yes, our lives will certainly be much more healthy this way.

Wait. What? There wasn't a memo? So, it's still the case that: reducing stigma reduces HIV risks; and, encouraging thoughtful consideration of risks and benefits leads to individual decisions better optimized to attain individual goals? Well, gosh. In that case, this video runs entirely counter to what we know to be useful, particularly in communities with endemic HIV.

While there are substantial differences in presentation (owing, I suspect, to differences in media sophistication), the core of this video exhibits a bad case of "Reefer Madness" syndrome: a hyperbolic, exploitative, morality tale intended to "scare straight" some ostensibly innocent-but-vulnerable audience. (Indeed, one might draw additional parallels to limitations imposed by the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 and the no-promo-homo sequella of the Helms Amendment.) Bottom line here: these morality tales construct a minority group, says that the minority is bad, and cautions against becoming one of _them_.

I have no doubt: this video will be just as effective at extinguishing HIV today as "Reefer Madness" was as at extinguishing cannabis use ~80 years ago. (That is: not at all.)

Mike K said...

In Australia, we have had to deal with calls to bring back fear-based HIV prevention campaigns every time we see an increase in HIV diagnoses, in particular because Australia's first government HIV campaign in the 1980s was the infamous Grim Reaper campaign in which a small blonde girl fearfully clutching her teddy bear was knocked over by the AIDS bowling ball flung at her by Death. These calls were so constant that Colin Batrouney from VAC wrote a Monograph on fear-based HIV campaigns for the National Centre in HIV Social Research (available at While Colin's monograph was addressing treatment toxicities as the proposed basis for fear-based campaigns, his comments apply more generally to the NYC DPH ad and explain why it will most likely fail with its target audience and will contribute to HIV-related stigma.

Anonymous said...

I answer your questions like Anne and : this campaign won't encourage gay men to be tested AND to begin a treatment if they need.
Perhaps it will encourage a few people to stay safe : to stay safe in beginning abstinent but with further health problems like prostate or mental health.


IRMA said...

Should you want to engage on this issue directly with the NYC Dept of Public Health -

Send comments to Nichole Melendez (Administrative Assistant to Dr. Monica Sweeney, Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control at the NYC Health Department.

PhotographerNYC said...

Much has been said already about this add campaign, which now reaches the subway trains in NYC, despite several calls from HIV activists to the city's DOH to pull it out.
I also think the way the questions were posed, leaves a bitter taste of bias and little room for disagreement.
That said, for me, the only positive thing this campaign brought out is a lot of controversy, while HIV prevention have been raising little more than eye brows, the add has polarized activists.
What really matters to me are the effects of increased stigmatization of HIV + people, in an attempt to change behavior of those at higher risk, mainly young men of color that have sex with men. How is this add going to make it easier for HIV + people to disclose their status to potential sexual partners? How is it going to promote testing, when testing is not even mentioned? How is it going to reduce transmission rates, when the last thing people feel motivated to find out is their HIV status?
HIV is mostly transmitted by people who are positive and don't know it. Recent studies have shown that young gay men reduce their number of sexual partners after testing positive.
I've a bad feeling that besides controversy, this campaign will at the end increase transmission rates in the city and if that happens, we will know why and who's responsible.

Anonymous said...

yeah, the add is very poorly designed. but the underlying message is important. many people think HIV is just like diabetes now, a disease you can live with until you're old and gray. all you need do is a take a few pills every day. this leads to more risk taking behaviors.

stigma created by an ad like this, however, reduces communication and tolerance, which increases risk and transmission. they just need to find a different way to get that message across.

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