Does Anyone Lose If You Use Hitler to Make AIDS Look Scary?

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Who knew a campaign to promote World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 would generate such outrage? Oh, well when you involve Adolf Hilter, things do have a tendency to delve into lunacy.

The above ad, which promotes this website from the German AIDS awareness group called Regenbogen e.V., has unaffiliated AIDS groups raging! It is also extraordinarily effective … at generating fear. That doesn’t necessarily make it a good ad.

The ad is clever: Take one of history’s most hated humans ever and turn our anxiety, fear, and united front against him into the new face of AIDS. The ad is not American; it came out of Germany’s own creative agency das comitee (yes, lowercase) in Hamburg. And you’ll remember that Germany explicitly bans any pro-Nazi messages and imagery; flying a Nazi flag could land you in prison. But showcasing Hitler as a villain? Perfectly acceptable.

But not to AIDS groups, who think the message only further stigmatizes those living with HIV/AIDS. That, at least according to the Daily Telegraph, which regularly traffics in semi-scandal. “Of course there are many HIV organisations that run their own campaigns, however I think the advert is incredibly stigmatising to people living with HIV who already face much stigma and discrimination due to ignorance about the virus,” says a spokeswoman for the National AIDS Trust, which coordinates World Aids Day in Britain. “On top of this it fails to provide any kind of actual prevention message (e.g. use a condom) and may deter people to come forward for testing. The advert is also inaccurate because in the UK thanks to treatment HIV is a manageable condition that does not necessary lead to AIDS.” (For the record, the ad’s message says AIDS, not HIV, is the mass murderer.)

Naturally, Regenbogen (which means “rainbow”) is defending the ad. Its site reads: “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. Because anyone can become infected.”

Fine. And if that’s the intent, we must say: mission accomplished. AIDS is a scary, scary disease, but outlandish scare tactics won’t necessarily stem unsafe sex. Then again, MTV’s own (much lauded) campaign to “know your status” and get tested also doesn’t mention anything about unprotected sex; just that you should know whether you’re HIV-positive or not, which is important information, but not as crucial as staying safe to begin with.

But here’s what both groups get: Good causes, like any commercial product or commodity, will only succeed with excellent branding and buzzworthy marketing. Red ribbons are easy to overlook. Hitler screwing a pretty girl? Not so much.

Meanwhile, here’s our conspiracy theory version as to why AIDS groups are “condemning” this ad: Because they know the Golden Rule of Good Causes: Don’t mess with another group’s shtick. The AIDS charities who have a problem with the ad don’t want to trample on Jewish groups, who, obviously own Hitler as their biggest foe. And Jewish groups, in turn, won’t go around claiming anti-Semitism is a biological enemy we must eliminate with drug cocktails. (The imagery isn’t nearly as effective, anyhow.)

And where there’s outrage, there’s the Internet. It’s not just AIDS groups flipping out over the ad, but the uploading masses, too.

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