sex sells

Do These Sexy HIV Advocacy Ads Send the Wrong Message About AIDS?

How do you get folks excited about the 2010 Minnesota AIDS Walk? By getting hot guys to pose nearly naked for a new ad campaign, duh. Except, um, might that send the wrong message about AIDS?

The new ad campaign, which debuts Dec. 1, falls back on the advertising industry’s golden rule: sex sells. But the campaign — which, to be sure, promotes a good cause — already has its critics. Like Christian-Philippe Quilici, a Twin Cities resident and the events manager for Minnesota culture site, who wonders aloud, “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? … These barely legal pied pipers are, I’m guessing, supposed to encourage the public to join the team and join the fight against AIDS and raise money for the (truly) important work that the MN AIDS Project does.”

But at what cost? Quilici:


Does advertising like this recent campaign from MN 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 MN 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 what continues to be a GLOBAL EPIDEMIC? Does this, effectively, contribute to the ballooning ignorance among young gay men as to the real dangers of this disease? What part does this play vis-a-vis the rampant rise in bareback sex? Pre-1999 AIDS awareness campaigns were raw, in-your-face and downright activist. The past 10 years have shown that message evolve into the sex-positive sloganeering and unnecessarily provocative/suggestive media we are surrounded with today.*** How many leukemia campaigns have you seen recently that feature hot shirtless guys? Muscular dystrophy? Jerry’s kids have NOTHING on these studs.

No, these spots don’t tell you anything about HIV.

But this ad campaign isn’t exactly about HIV awareness, like promoting HIV testing, safe sex, and preventative programs in schools. It’s about getting people to sign up for an event that generates cash for the Minnesota AIDS Project, which says that “in partnership with over 1,000 volunteers, we provide compassionate, confidential and non-discriminatory services, including practical, emotional and social support.”

By sexing up “the cause,” the organization can raise more cash to perform commendable work.

We don’t have a problem with “sexing up” any form of advocacy. If feeding the homeless gets you hot and bothered, great! If that’s what it takes for you to volunteer and raise cash for good causes, so be it. Because we all know what gets people’s attention: skin.

But it’s a difficult arena to play in when the very thing you’re advocating for — fighting HIV — is inexorably intertwined around the very thing you’re promoting: sex.