H.I.V.: Do You Need to See It to Believe It?

Kim Conte

hiv adThe intention behind a graphic new YouTube ad by the New York City health department was to warn about the continuing seriousness of H.I.V. But all it seems to be doing since its release back in December is kicking up quite a bit of controversy among several activist groups.

The ad seems intent on counteracting recent pharmaceutical ads that suggest a false sense of safety in the face of new H.I.V. treatments. Specifically, it warns against life-threatening diseases that often accompany H.I.V. (including osteoporosis) and urges condom use as images of miserable-looking men flash on the screen. The most controversial moment is a graphic image of anal cancer.

In response, several gay activist groups are speaking out in opposition to the ad, saying it not only stigmatizes gay men (by not showing that females can get H.I.V., too), but also uses scare tactics that will be counterproductive in the long run.

Do you agree?

This isn't the first public service ad that has used threatening messages to perhaps "scare" people into adopting healthy habits. Consider the graphic images of tobacco's effects on cigarette boxes that the Pan American Health Organization recommended to help people stop smoking. Or, remember the drinking the fat ads that were intended to curb obesity? Those were pretty gross, too.

But gross and scary doesn't always equal effective -- and that's exactly the issue that these gay activist groups are taking with the new H.I.V. ads. They would prefer a message that still warns about H.I.V. but perhaps isn't so grounded in fear.

Do you think scare tactics are effective in keeping people healthy?


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