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Racy HIV Edmonton campaign wins Grand Clio award

Health Matters: HIV Edmonton launches edgy campaign
WATCH ABOVE: HIV Edmonton has launched a racy new ad campaign targeting homosexual and bisexual men. Su-Ling Goh looks into why the people behind the ad are hoping edgy proves to be effective.

WARNING: Some of the language in this article is mature in nature. Discretion advised.

An edgy campaign for HIV Edmonton hoped to get more people talking about the virus. Now, it’s won the creators, Calder Bateman, a prestigious health marketing award.

“We are so very proud of our brave client and our breakthrough work,” said Jeff McLean, the campaign’s creative director.

“To be in the company of such outstanding creative work is one thing, but to walk away with a Grand Clio is an incredible made-in-Edmonton story.”

READ MORE: HIV Edmonton hopes edgy awareness campaign will get people talking about rising rates 

Facing a continuing rise of HIV in Alberta’s capital, HIV Edmonton enlisted Calder Bateman to create a provocative integrated campaign to address the issue.

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“Clearly, traditional public health messages were not reaching the community,” HIV Edmonton’s Laura Keegan said.

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“We needed to engage the young gay community and start a new dialogue about HIV in 2016. It was important that our communications campaign provided accurate information about new prevention technologies and challenged myths, without further blaming and stigmatizing the very community we wanted to reach.”

READ MORE: One in five HIV-positive Canadians don’t know they’re HIV-positive

The approach hinged on one question: How do we stop the spread of HIV when people don’t know they are spreading it?

The campaign pushed the boundaries. It used interactive materials that were inspired by hook-up sites; interactive posters and an interactive website HIVtonight.com.

“We don’t know who is spreading HIV in Edmonton. And neither do they” was the slogan.

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“We had traditional washroom ad posters that were in restaurants and bars targeting our audience,” McLean explained. “Direct mail postcards that were in those venues, as well. We used online advertising that was on online dating sites for the target audience to again attract their attention and get the message across that HIV was on the rise in Edmonton.”

READ MORE: HIV rates still rising in Canada, but treatment is simpler, safer and effective

HIVTonight.com warns readers of explicit imagery before they commit to opening the site. Pictures of erect penises are used to portray the increasing rates of HIV in the city, and provocative slogans are used to grab people’s attention and get them talking about the virus.

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“It is a little explicit… It’s meant to be somewhat exciting and shocking,” said Brook Biggin, HIV Edmonton’s community educator.

“It pulls people in. It’s light, it’s fun, it’s edgy. There are penises everywhere and so it gets people in.”

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The campaign specifically targets gay and bisexual men and encourages them to discuss their HIV status before engaging in sexual activity with anyone.

READ MORE: Alberta sees big spike in sexually transmitted infections, blames dating apps 

The HIVtonight.com campaign won the Grand Clio Award in the Integrated Campaign category – known as the Oscars of the advertising world.

Low-budget projects in smaller markets rarely win Clio awards.

Calder Bateman was the only Canadian agency to win one this year.

“Winning a Grand Clio is really – for me and for Calder Bateman – almost a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” McLean said. “Very difficult. You’re up against worldwide competition,” he added, calling it “incredibly special and it doesn’t come around that often.”

The company was also behind the controversial Plenty of Syph campaign, which in 2011 put a spotlight on Alberta’s rising syphilis rates.