POZ Exclusives : New HIV Effort Is No Laughing Matter - by James Wortman

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April 13, 2009

New HIV Effort Is No Laughing Matter

by James Wortman

Graduates from Cable Positive’s Youth AIDS Media Institute University create a multimedia HIV campaign for today’s tech-savvy youth.

“There’s no LOL in HIV.”

This is the message—and name—of a new HIV/AIDS awareness campaign created by and for young people ages 16 to 23, a group that represents nearly half of all HIV infections worldwide.

Cable Positive, the cable industry’s AIDS action organization, teamed with The Motorola Foundation to form the first Youth AIDS Media Institute University (YAMIU), which brought 17 young AIDS activists from the northeastern United States to Washington, DC, for a brainstorming session to develop a youth-focused multiplatform effort to fight HIV.

“The youth made it clear that as peer educators they face a general apathy, and that frustrates them the most,” said Paul Orefice, YAMIU faculty member and managing partner with New York-based creative firm, the watsons. “They made it very clear to us that they wanted to tackle head-on that their peers are not taking this seriously. That they find [HIV] to be a laughing matter.” For those not up on Internet slang, “LOL” stands for “laughing out loud.”

After just three conference calls, the group finally assembled in person on March 25 to work under the tutelage of a crack team of industry professionals—including Emmy Award–winning producers Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern of Lookalike Productions. YAMIU students had to not only meet their tight deadline—having just six days to put the campaign together—but also keep their message focused and relevant.

“Everyone was really passionate about HIV prevention and getting the word out, so it was a lot of fun putting it together,” said YAMIU graduate Brian Davis, 24, a peer educator with the Child Center of New York’s Teen Impact and Prevention (TIPP) in Jamaica, Queens. “We had to come up with something that, as youth, we would be interested in ourselves. So we had to constantly think about what would engage us and keep us coming back.”

YAMIU graduate Brian Davis
When first visiting the campaign’s website, viewers are presented with high school yearbook-style photos of young people with captions such as “Most Popular” and “Most Intelligent” underneath them. However, by scrolling over the pictures, a new message appears. For example, if a visitor scrolls over one particular photo captioned with “Best Actress,” the message “for her performance in ‘I Have HIV and Told You I Didn’t’” emerges. The theme of HIV-related senior class superlatives is echoed in public service announcements, which are posted on the site. The YAMIU students feverishly wrote, produced and even starred in each of the PSAs, which, like all of the content in this campaign, will be made available free-of-charge to cable systems and local AIDS service organizations.

“The whole purpose of this campaign was to really make it available to local AIDS organizations for free,” said Cable Positive COO Thomas Henning, who added that the campaign is part of a long-term effort to empower HIV-minded young people and the communities they serve. “We see this going on for as long as possible. Each year, the YAMIU will build off the existing campaign or create a new one, so that’s the encouraging thing. It really becomes an evergreen tool.”

The site gives young people—and their parents—the opportunity to interact with HIV experts. It also debunks common HIV myths, tests their knowledge about the virus and encourages them to connect with other users.

The campaign spreads beyond the “No LOL” website to print ads and networking communities such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. In addition, anyone with a cell phone capable of sending and receiving text messages can text “NOLOL” to 61827 to have 52 unique weekly HIV messages sent straight to his or her phone, all of which were created by the YAMIU students. A sample reads: “A pigs orgasm lasts 30 mins, the same amt of time it takes 2 get an HIV test + results.” Definitely not your conservative corporate lingo.

“[YAMIU are] all about saying, ‘Here are the tools—what do you want to build?’” Henning said. “It was a real sincere and energizing experience to watch them come up with all the different platforms. We helped to drive that vehicle, but they did everything, and they can take those tools back to their community and make a tremendous impact.”

Click here to visit the “No LOL in HIV” website, and watch one of the campaign’s videos below.

Search: YAMIU, TIPP, Cable Positive, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube

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