People, especially in the health sector, claim that scare-mongering doesn’t work when trying to communicate prevention messages. I’m not so sure I agree with this. Time and time again the ad that people, certainly in the UK, remember regarding HIV is the Tombstone PSA. You watch it today and think it’s just plain ridiculous – the grim reaper killing people like it’s a bowling game! But something about it worked.
Then today, you read about the woman in Detroit who created the hoax video about how she had slept with 500 men and infected them all – people’s boyfriends and husbands, just to drive home the message that you could be the partner of one of these men. People called it in, fear of a public health scare. But the testing clinic in Detroit saw its numbers jump significantly after over 17,000 viewed the spot. Surely that’s done more for HIV than some other more pc campaigns have done?
I do think people respond to basic emotions and fear is one of them. Yes you have to be careful not to preach the HIV+ = Death message, but the reality is, unfortunately, that if you have HIV you are going to die. Having lost relatives and still have relatives afflicted with this virus, I hate to say that, but we’ve got to be realistic. This isn’t a nice virus we’re dealing with, when it’s bad, it’s bad.
I think you need to use different tactics/messages to reach different people and some people do respond to fear, we can’t get away from that.
Messaging is really hard to deal with, but I think I’d focus more on longer formats, like documentaries and films or drama series, because then you can focus on the complex nature and issues that surround the virus. Maybe there’s a way you can tell people that if they get HIV they will die (eventually) without telling that that they will die and putting the fear into them.

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