AIDS still kills, and a new advertising campaign apparently has lost sight of that truth.
The Minnesota AIDS Project is unveiling a new marketing campaign this Dec. 1 for World AIDS Day that is sleek, sexy, and artful -- and utterly frustrating for a young gay man in the Twin Cities such as myself.
The campaign features print advertising of nearly naked 20-somethings with perfect physiques covered strategically by a text box with double-entendre text as a call to action to raise funds for the 2010 AIDS Walk. It is supplemented by a behind-the-scenes video campaign of the aforementioned models waxing stony-faced as to why AIDS awareness and the Minnesota AIDS Walk is so important to them.
Does the continued hypersexualization of young and healthy gay men in the name of AIDS awareness make any meaningful contributions to the discourse on the current state of affairs vis-a-vis HIV/AIDS in Minnesota? The topic has been woefully out of the public spotlight these past few years, so why not sex it up a bit, some might argue. That's Marketing 101, right? Sex sells?
Sex does sell, but it also tends to tweak the message; it blurs it at best and cheapens it at worst. The Minnesota AIDS Project has decided that its best tactic on World AIDS Day this year is to perpetuate the stereotypes (body image, superficiality, vapidity) that only further marginalize our community and pander to the lowest common denominator. It is the cheapest possible LGBT marketing tactic.
MAP claims, in response to the first posting of this essay, that these ads are meant to target their 18- to 25-year-old gay male audience. If that's the case, that assumes that young gay men can only respond to skin ads, not to thoughtful messaging. But young gay men are already oversaturated with images of beefcake (have you met my friend, the Internet?) and these ads are doing little else than contributing to the noise.
I shouldn't be surprised. AIDS awareness has devolved these past few years in a manner I wish more young people would find alarming. Thanks to large pharmaceutical concerns that push cocktail drugs which elongate the lives of those stricken with HIV and AIDS, it's no longer simply a disease; it's a lifestyle for young, virile and well-built men and women who enjoy life! AIDS has recently been more about playing volleyball and traipsing through daisy fields with puppies (while forking over more than $2,300 a month for medication) than it has been about finding a cure for the damn thing.
As of 2007, 1.2 million North Americans are living with AIDS. Thankfully, they're living longer lives with fewer complications and without much of the stigma that used to accompany a diagnosis. Regrettably, the other 30.9 million people living with AIDS worldwide aren't so lucky.
Does advertising like this recent campaign from Minnesota AIDS Project tell you anything about the 23,000 North Americans and 2.2 million globally who died in 2007 from AIDS? Does advertising like this recent campaign from Minnesota AIDS Project tell you anything about the 54,000 new infections of HIV in North America? Does this campaign (and others like it) constitute a whitewashing of a continuing global epidemic? Does this, effectively, contribute to the ballooning ignorance among young gay men about the real dangers of this disease?
Here we are in 2009, and HIV is on the rise and safe sex is going the way of the Walkman. An ex of mine here in Minneapolis recently broke the news to me (and simultaneously broke my heart) that he's tested positive and is relieved because, well, you know, now he can have all the anonymous sex he wants and AIDS is no big deal because "they make these pills now."
Young gay men, much to their surprise, are not invincible, and when the messaging from the Minnesota AIDS Project, which is supposed to empower us when it comes to HIV/AIDS awareness, has devolved into a campaign featuring shirtless dudes imploring us to do more than the "bare" minimum, go "harder," "deeper," "faster," I realize that we've pretty much lost the plot. It's tacky and it's lame and we're better than that.
The disease deserves more gravitas than that and I'm aware of numerous other worldwide campaigns that combine sexuality with strong safe sex messaging. (The Swiss "Love Life. Stop AIDS" campaign and the French "Live Long Enough to Find the Right One" campaign are two magnificent examples.)
In a climate where it's become increasingly stigmatized in our community to say so, let me be the first, loudest and proudest, to exclaim: I'm still terrified of AIDS. It's still killing us. Perhaps more slowly and perhaps now behind closed doors, but it's still killing us.
Christian-Philippe Quilici is events manager for Vita.mn, an arts and entertainment publication produced by the Star Tribune.