When the Whitman-Walker Clinic decided to market its AIDS Walk Washington annual fundraising event, it thought getting the attention of moviegoers would be a smart idea. So it submitted an ad to National CineMedia, which describes itself as “the largest digital in-theatre network in North America that allows us to distribute advertisements and other content for our advertising, meetings and events businesses utilizing our proprietary digital content network.” Great idea, right? Only problem: NCM wouldn’t allow Whitman-Walker to even mention the words HIV or AIDS in the ad. (NOTE: Item updated below.)
Sorry, that’s only partially true: They said Whitman-Walker could mention “AIDS Walk” since that was the name of the event. But the voiceover that began “One in 20 adults in DC has HIV”? Yeah, NCM suggested they change that to “One in every 20 adults in DC has a socially transmitted disease.” Because that’s less stigmatizing or controversial?
Chip Lewis, the deputy director of communications for Whitman-Walker, tells us: “We submitted a script, logos, photos and all the necessary materials to produce the ad. They sent us a proof last week and we responded back with some small changes. The ad is completely harmless, nothing provocative or suggestive. Today, I received an e-mail from our account representative telling us that they had not thoroughly looked over our creative brief initially and that, due to restrictions set up by the regional theater circuits, we could not use the words ‘HIV’ or ‘AIDS’ in the ad. We could still use ‘AIDS Walk’ since it’s the name of the event. However, we were told that we could not use our opening line of ‘one in every 20 adults in DC has HIV.’ They suggested we change it to ‘one in every 20 adults in DC has a socially transmitted disease.’ Seriously. I asked about the reasons behind the restrictions and was told that they were put in place by the theater circuits and that National CineMedia had to abide by those restrictions. How can we fight an epidemic if we can’t talk about it?”
So is NCM to blame? Or the theater trade group it belongs to? Because indeed, right there in NCM’s ad guidelines under the “Health” category, any mention of HIV/AIDS is prohibited.
Either way, there’s no sense spending ad dollars with companies that think not mentioning the very disease Whitman-Walker fights is the proper way to address the situation. Instead, why not, uh, spend that money with Queerty?
Here’s how to reach NCM.
UPDATE: Chip Lewis tells Queerty NCM has decided it will allow them to run their ad as is, mentioning “AIDS” and all!
On the next page: A full list of NCM’s ad guidelines.