H.I.V. Education That Aims to Empower, Not Shame

January 6, 2016

Thanks to medical advances, a diagnosis of H.I.V., while still very serious, is no longer the death sentence it once was. For organizations trying to communicate information about testing and prevention, though, the devastation the virus has caused over the decades remains ever-present.

Traditional public service announcements tend to rely on shock and shame, with mixed success. But when Arizona public health officials began contemplating a new campaign, they wanted to change that.

“We needed a coordinated media strategy and it needed really to focus less on fear-based messaging and more on empowering people,” said John Sapero, office chief for H.I.V. prevention for the Arizona Department of Health Services.

About a year ago, the health department turned to one of its regular media partners, the marketing agency Moses Inc., to create a P.S.A. aimed at encouraging people to visit a website,, where they could get information about testing and other resources.

The ads, displayed on billboards, bus shelters and other outdoor areas in the Phoenix and Tucson areas, each depict a person going about an everyday activity — jogging, shopping, talking on the phone — and encountering an unnoticed hazard: a street signpost, a glass door, an open manhole cover.

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