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The advertisement campaign for creating AIDS awareness featuring Adolf Hitler has drawn much controversy upon its release. The ad shows a couple having steaming sex in a dimly lit room with music playing in the background. Towards the end of the ad, the face of the man is revealed to be Adolf Hitler, with the tag line ‘AIDS is a mass murderer’. The Rainbow group, which in association with Hamburg-based ad agency Das Comitee has conceived and promoted this awareness campaign, has defended the shock, disgust and provocation invoked by the ad. It’s spokesperson says that the ad is intended to wake up young Germans to the reality of AIDS prevalence in the country – a subject that has faded of late in public discourse. The discouraging statistics pertaining to the spread o AIDS in Germany, is warrant enough for this bold provocation, the charitable group justifies. And there is some merit in their point of view. For example, “Germans need the encouragement – the facts about HIV rates in the country are alarming. Eight people become infected with HIV in Germany every day. Across the country, 60,000 people are living with HIV.” (Moore, www.time.com, 2009) This essay will assess if the campaign would be effective if it were to be run in the United Kingdom.

While the image of Adolf Hitler generates lots of unpleasant feelings in Germans, it is more so in the United Kingdom. As part of the Allied forces, the UK bore the brunt of German aggression during the Second World War. Hence, the ad is bound to do better in the UK that what it did in Germany. Similarly, the image of Joseph Stalin and Saddam Hussein too does not sit well in the British audience’ mind, for the two were enemy personalities during the Cold War and the Iraq War respectively. Moreover, young people of UK are not immune to the threat of HIV infection. In the last few decades when over 28 million people have already succumbed to the disease – this includes a percentage of the British. Each passing day, 5,000 people succumb to the condition worldwide. In this respect it is not inappropriate to call AIDS a mass murderer of our times. (Moore, www.time.com, 2009)

The campaign finds relevance in the British context for other reasons too. For example, awareness about the nature and modes of transmission of the disease is not properly understood by most young people. This is despite the fact that relevant information is made available in the Internet and other media. The fact that many youth in the country do not understand how exactly HIV is transmitted is a cause of concern. They need to be educated about the many ways through which HIV could be transmitted from one human to another. Contact of mucous membrane during sexual intercourse is one of the common modes of transmission. Other modes include bloodstream contamination of HIV infected body fluids such as blood, vaginal fluid, semen, pre-seminal fluid, and breast milk. The infection can occur through conventional vaginal sexual intercourse or through anal, oral sexual acts. There are recorded cases of HIV infection being perpetrated through blood transfusion, transfer from mother to baby during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding, contaminated hypodermic needles, etc. It is only through thought provoking awareness campaigns such as the one conceived by the Rainbow group that young people (including those in Britain) will get to understand the nature of the AIDS threat fully.

The spread of AIDS has now assumed pandemic proportions across the world. When statistics were compiled last year, as many as thirty three million people worldwide were afflicted with this condition, of which close to ten percent eventually died. The more worrying aspect is the fact that a significant portion of AIDS patients are children. The region worst hit by the AIDS pandemic is sub-Saharan Africa, where economic and cultural progress is curtailed by this perpetual emergency situation. Hence, given that sexual activity is an integral part of young people’s lives, cultivating the prudence to have safe sex is necessary. In this context, despite the sourness and shame the images of Hitler, Stalin and Hussein invoke, the ad campaign by Rainbow group is quite legitimate.

The controversy created by the campaign is not a compelling reason for it not to be tried in Britain. The press officer for the Rainbow group, Jan Schwertner, is at pains to emphasize that they are not the first to link the topics of AIDS and dictators. In other words, the approach is not original, but is rather a deliberate tactic to shock the audience and elicit purported response. As Schwertner alludes, the earlier awareness campaigns featuring vegetables were not nearly as successful due to lack of provocative elements in the ads. The effectiveness of the new tactics is proven by the fact that young people have reacted positively to the campaign. From the point of view of the Rainbow group, the campaign has been a success. In the end, it all boils down to the old adage – ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity’. (Hans, www.spiegel.de, 2009) Hence, the controversial nature of the ad campaign is not disincentive enough for it to be tried in Britain, or for that matter in Sub-Saharan Africa.

When one looks back at the history of advertisement, the concept of employing popular cultural icons is a proven method of garnering attention to a brand. Though, figures such as Hitler, Stalin and Saddam Hussein are perceived negatively by the general public, they do fit the idea of celebrity endorsement. A very prominent example is the 1998 campaign headed by Television personality Joan Lunden, who also suffered from allergies. Claritin employed Lunden for allergy controlling products. Likewise, Bob Dole was seen endorsing for Viagra as he himself was suffering from and erectile dysfunction. This trend had now snowballed into big phenomenon with more celebrities pitching an ever-expanding array of prescription drugs on popular mainstream media. Thus, one can understand the reasoning behind using notorious figures in the awareness campaign. (Gorin, 2002, p.58)

Concerns pertaining to the effectiveness of the campaign in the United Kingdom will be dispelled when one analyses the ad through an ethical framework. For example, a common framework of media ethics has been adopted by radio, television and newspaper associations across Europe and North America. The ad campaign in question meets most criteria set out in the ethical code. For instance, an area of consensus that journalists and ad professionals from various mediums have agreed upon is in the judicious choice of facts and photographs that is published or shown in their reports. This code was accepted on the grounds that blatant truth can sometimes offend or hurt the sentiments of certain communities. But the flip side of this argument is the subtle ‘censorship’ that this subjects journalists to. In this context the AIDS awareness campaign in question can be seen to bring greater common good for British citizens at the cost of causing some minor discomfort.

The fact that the ad campaign in question is a social awareness campaign as against a commercial marketing campaign, makes the parameters of judging its content slightly different. Social marketing is defined as “the application of commercial marketing technologies to the analysis, planning, execution and evaluation of programs designed to influence the voluntary behaviour of target audiences in order to improve their personal welfare and that of society”. (Kotler, 2002, p.36) In a general sense, social marketing is a novel way of conceiving and implementing a very old human endeavour. From time immemorial, “there have been social systems, there have been attempts to inform, persuade, influence, motivate, to gain acceptance for new adherents to certain sets of ideas, to promote causes and to win over particular groups, to reinforce behaviour or to change it — whether by favour, argument or force”. (Bloom & Novelli, 1991, p.84) Its practical development is related to such disciplines as “advertising, public relations and market research, as well as to the work and experience of social activists, advocacy groups and community organizers” (Kotler, 2002, p.36). Since the advertisement featuring Hitler falls within the tradition of social marketing/awareness, it is bound to be efficacious in meeting its objectives.

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