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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  • Thinker2

    America is now officially the “Outrage” nation.

    Have you been outraged today?

  • M Shane

    It’s odd for Germans to be scapegoating Hitler for all the ugliness of Nazism, especially on the heels of proof that the German people were for a large part wholehearted participants in the Nazi outrage. Letters and multiple pieces of documentation on top of the fact that fascism was a democratic and popular movement even though business profited.
    Interesting timing. I was made aware of this fact by an older German woman in California years ago when I was a teenager.
    The other aspect of Aids treatment has to do with thinking of the virus positively, which a picture of hitler I don’t think would help.

  • jason

    I think these Hitler ads are awful and moronic. It’s almost as if they’ve been created by snotty-nosed adolescents in “creative” mode.

    For one thing, they misrepresent HIV. The ads suggest that HIV is mass murder. Mass murder? Then why are people living for decades now with HIV? Magic Johnson was declared HIV positive in 1991. He’s still healthy and living a near-normal life as far as I can tell.

    Also, why are all the women in the ads young and pretty? And why aren’t there images of men getting fucked by Hitler? Sorry, guys, but these ads are not only misleading, they’re also stereotypical and possibly homophobic.

  • Lucky Luke

    @M Shane:

    Thinking about the virus positively? Maybe I’m a little too dim, but what exactly is that supposed to mean? I understand thinking about in a less negative way, since it’s not the killer it used to be, but that’s far from thinking about it positively. Like some “HIV proud” people I see. You shouldn’t be ashamed for being HIV+, but that’s definetly not something to be proud of.

  • Dennis

    This ad campaign is a load of crap, and deserves all of the scorn it has received…done purely for shock value, and unconcerned with any collateral damage it may create.

    Aids is a mass murderer? Getting fucked by Adolf Hitler? Talk about sensationalistic fear mongering and demonizing HIV+ people…there are FAR better ways to educate people about the risks of unprotected sex, and the dangers of risking infection.

    FAIL. (what’s that in German? Bullscheize?!)

  • alan brickman

    tasteless and distracting from the point…go back to ad school…

  • Alan

    The ad represents AIDS as the murderer. To say that it stigmatizes people living with HIV or AIDS is to turn the message on its head: they (like the woman in the ad) are victims of the virus, not the perpetrator.

    I think we should distinguish between cases where people are actually offended, and cases where people merely have a vague feeling that they should feel offended. The ad might be shocking and sensationalist, but to be offended you have to be looking to feel offended.

  • underbear1

    @Alan you don’t have to “look to be offended”, the ad is OFFENSIVE.
    It also stokes a very ugly fear and hatred of queers, using a straight woman as the victim.
    This scare tactic won’t stop a single case of AIDS, because it doesn’t show the horrors of AIDS. Start showing 20 year olds dying, so fatigued and sick their lives will never be the same.
    If you wanted the horror of Nazis, show the open pit of corpses with lime thrown on top of them.
    I’ve lived with AIDS for 25 years, I never spread it, I’ve survived a lover who died in 1990 when he’d just turned 24 yo.
    My lover now has AIDS, and became infected almost the same time I did. The reason my generation changed our sexual habits (which was the first time an STD ever changed sexual practices) is because we saw friends and aquaintances dying (dozens and dozens of them.)

  • Carver

    @Thinker2: I’m outraged that I haven’t found something to be outraged about!

  • *sigh*

    @M Shane: Wow you’re a moron…

  • Alan

    @underbear1: Given that it doesn’t even mention or remotely allude to gay men – but is rather based entirely around straight ‘erotica’, I fail to see see how it can be taken to incite ‘a very ugly fear and hatred of queers’. I can only think that you’ve somehow equated AIDS or Hitler with gay men; but there is no evidence to suggest this is the intention of the producers or a foreseeable or reasonable interpretation of the ad.

    Again, I think it’s a case of looking to be offended.

  • n

    Eh, not to mention that the dictator locks eyes with the camera in a manner that suggests he knows he’s committing murder. Which kind of implies to the viewer that AIDS victims want to infect everyone else. And all the while, the women in all of the ads have absolutely no agency whatsoever. They’re not even acknowledging the camera.

  • underbear1


    sweetie, continue to think EVERY mention of AIDS doesn’t immediately bring up gay in 99% of people’s minds, whether it’s said or not.

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