grim reaper campaign

The Three Faces Of Grim, How Would You Promote HIV Prevention?

In 1987 we didn’t really talk about HIV prevention.

I was in my first year of high school and everybody had started talking about this new disease that was sweeping the world. Apparently AIDS was going to kill anyone that was sexually active, but it seems that “those  homos” were first in line. There was even a Grim Reaper ad campaign that pretty much said the same thing, be monogamous or risk death.

As fear campaigns go this one is certainly remembered by most Australians. While it did indeed bring awareness to the presence of HIV, it has been argued that it did little to actually facilitate HIV prevention or create change in the group most affected by HIV, gay men.

As noted by the social research group Sigma Research, fear campaigns are not noted for creating actual change, in their paper The Role Of Fear In HIV Prevention they offer five key points:

• Fear arousing imagery can be good at attracting attention and is often memorable.
• Fear-based campaigns are more persuasive for individuals who are already engaging in the desired, health-protective, behaviour.
• Arousing fear in individuals can have many unintended consequences, such as denial or othering.
• Most homosexually active men are already fearful of HIV.
• Arousing fear is not an effective means of facilitating sexual behaviour change.

So basically the campaign simply increased fear in and of gay men and HIV. Not an ideal outcome.

In advertising we need to look for an outcome. Whether that be people buying a product, a change in behaviour or reinforcement of current behaviour.

Twenty years post Grim Reaper, ACON released “The Glam Reaper” featuring the eternally camp Mitzy Macintosh adding colour and humour to what had been a sinister and dry campaign.

Lighter, brighter, without the fear adding a clear message: HIV is still here, condoms work well in preventing HIV, use them.

What I love about this ad is that it takes ownership of the death icon of the Grim Reaper and spins it around to a strong message that reinforces the importance of safe sex and that while things may have changed, safe sex is still the key to reducing HIV transmission.

No fear, and no stigmatizing of target groups or potential stigmatising of people living with HIV.

This week it appears that the Grim Reaper is back with this new HIV prevention advertisement produced by the Queensland Health Department in Australia.

Hmmm, lots of sepia and soft focus, a subdued, almost sad sound track and an open admission that we have failed to stop HIV. No message of how we can stop HIV, just that it should have happened already.

Going to the website flashed at the end of the ad simply dumps  people onto a bland health department website that says HIV kills and a vague discription of how HIV is  transmitted.

What had potential to actually facilitate change, offer hope, or even explain the basics of safe sex has been totally missed. If this is the wonderful new approach to HIV that the Queensland Government has created they have missed the mark significantly.

Just this month the main education group for preventing HIV in gay men is no longer funded by the government. This is despite a stong action group that was created to advise the government on how to move forward. It appears this advice has either been ignored or was simply a tactic to quell the bad media when funding was withdrawn from HIV prevention.

In 2010 Queensland Health reported 2,108 people were living with HIV/AIDS  in the state. The majority are men who have sex with other men.

Currently Queensland Health is yet to replace the services that were aimed specifically for the prevention of HIV in this vulnerable group.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg stated  in his press release the withdrawal of these funds:

The LNP [Liberal National Party] government has moved quickly to address an alarming rise in HIV diagnosis rates across Queensland with the announcement it will create a Ministerial Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS to review and redirect awareness and prevention campaigns.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said annual HIV diagnosis rates had doubled in the last decade: from 2.7 per 100,000 population in 2000, to 5.4 in 2010.

Given that they have chosen to address this doubling of HIV infection rates, and given the statistics show that gay men are the highest risk group, what does Minister Springborg plan to reduce this rate?

One ad, one web page. No safe sex education.

Should we meet again when the HIV rate doubles again?

So here is the question I would like to pose to you. If you had the $2.6 million dollars that was ear marked for preventing HIV in Queensland what would you do? Heck what would you do with even 1/10th of that money?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. I wonder if the Queensland Governement would as well.

Yours in good health.

Dr George


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