HIV is Only Dangerous if You Don’t Know it’s There

Arizona Department of Health Services reframes HIV prevention in an ad campaign that moves away from fear-mongering and stigmatizing people with HIV.

John Sapero of the Arizona’s HIV Prevention Program told The New York Times, "We needed a coordinated media strategy and it needed really to focus less on fear-based messaging and more on empowering people.”

The public service advertising campaign shows people shopping, walking while on their cell phones or jogging; and then running headlong into an obstruction, like a street sign or glass door. “It’s only dangerous if you don’t know it’s there,” the copy reads. “Awareness is the answer.”

Created by Moses, Inc, the $300,000 media campaign was supported through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Louie Moses, president of the advertising agency reported that the company donated hundreds of hours to the project, which would have run a corporate client $5-10 million.

Since the campaign launched last year, the state’s Department of Health has seen a 23 percent increase in traffic to their site, HIVAZ.com, where visitors can find testing services, free/low cost care and links to a CDC tool that estimates risks of different types of sexual activity.

That success is likely due to the way the ads remove stigma from the equation. “We kind of learned from the past,” Moses said, calling some of the PSA’s of the 1980s “pretty shocking.”

“Since then,” Moses added, “The research says that shocking and embarrassing and shaking your finger at the potential consumer does the exact opposite. It just makes them hide.” This time, Moses said, “We didn’t want to shock and scare and judge the group of people we’re talking to.”

Thirty years into the epidemic, it’s about time public service announcements stop adding to the stigma surrounding HIV. Let’s hope this is a sign of things to come and more people learn it’s possible to be pro-prevention without stigmatizing people already living with HIV.

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