I recently came across a very interesting and equally disturbing German ad campaign for AIDS released earlier this month.
The graphic new AIDS awareness advert titled Aids Is A Mass Murderer shows an Adolf Hitler lookalike having sex and is aimed at countering a fall in public awareness of the dangers of unprotected sex.
In an article on The Sydney Morning Herald website, creative director at the Das Commitee Advertising Agency, Dirk Silz defended the image of Hitler saying his reputation as a mass murder mirrored the dangers of the disease.
“We asked ourselves what face we could give to the virus, and it couldn’t be a pretty face. The campaign is designed to shake people up, to bring the topic of AIDS back to centre stage, and to reverse the trend of unprotected sexual intercourse.”
The campaign will also feature explicit sex scenes involving lookalikes of former Soviet Union Dictator Joseph Stalin and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Because of the campaigns controversial message, the advert has naturally drawn criticism from various experts that say the ad stigmatises people infected with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) and does not provide messages about prevention or treatment.
AIDS groups in Britain are distancing themselves from the adult clip believing the campaign will only shock rather than encourage conversation.
“On top of this [the ad] fails to provide any kind of actual prevention message, for example, the use a condom and may deter people to come forward for testing,” a spokeswoman for the National AIDS Trust in Britain said.
“The advert is also inaccurate because in the U.K. thanks to treatment, HIV is a manageable condition that does not necessary lead to AIDS.”
However, despite the ads lack of informative information (apart from the evident fact that AIDS kills millions of people each year) it is important to look at the intentions of the ad and the context it was created in.
Firstly, the ad was created by a German advertising agency meaning the decision to use Adolf Hitler must be examined. Secondly, while the ad intends to ignite global discussion about AIDS once more, it is not done in a professionally informative way. In other words, the ad does not use statistical information or likewise when labelling AIDS as a “mass murderer”.
While I am not an avid supporter of the ad in question, I believe that its intentions have been widely misunderstood.
In Germany, there is no doubt that the name and image of Adolf Hitler is synonymous with notions of horror, death and evil. Similarly, AIDS is a disease that also bears negative connotations and as such, bears a link with the image of Hitler. Because the ad was intended for release in Germany (with a focus on a global scale later on in the year), the ad creates a link between Hitler and the disease labelling both as mass killers. While there is no statistical information in the ad that explains why they are killers it is a fact that is impossible to argue because it has been accepted as common knowledge. For the most part, it is indisputable.
It is my understanding that the reason the agency chose to use Hitler is purely for the shock value – a media tactic that almost always succeeds in drawing eyeballs. While the message that AIDS kills is definitely delivered, whether it is actually understood or not is a different matter altogether. In my case for example, despite the ad’s lack of specific information, the content was enough to get my attention and investigate further via the campaigns official website.
However, while the ad succeeds in drawing attention I believe that the shock component of such campaigns can prove to be very explosive that it ends up drowning the actual message it intended to communicate. And while the ad definitely shocks by pulling on the sensitivites of its worldwide audience, whether it succeeds in actually stimulating public discourse is yet to be seen.