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Internet campaign calls for HIV testing

Website aims message at young adults

REACHING OUT. A new internet campaign will try to persuade young adults to get tested for HIV.

A new internet campaign is trying to convince young Canadian adults to get tested for HIV.

The campaign, called One Life (LuvU2.ca), was created by pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) Canada and was launched on Aug 18. Apart from some introductory print ads, the campaign will appear only on an internet site, which includes a video urging testing set to the song One by U2 and Mary J Blige, who donated use of the song for the Canadian campaign. The site also includes links to AIDS service organizations and testing sites across Canada and the results of a survey on sexual behaviour among those aged 18 to 30.

The creators of the campaign hope it becomes a viral success, with people learning of the site by word of mouth.

“We’ve seen public campaigns coming and going and they do have an impact,” says Marc Osborne, the director of public affairs and government relations for BMS Canada. “But a lot of people surf the ‘net and are using the web to get info. It’s a medium that’s growing faster than other campaign media.”

Osborne says the campaign was motivated by the rise in HIV infections among young Canadians.

“Young adults, people who have regular lives, we know need to be sensitized more about being tested,” he says. “It was a team at BMS who wanted something different in reaching out to people. The agency came back with images of ordinary people in Canadian society, with the music of U2.”

Osborne says the campaign has not set any benchmarks to estimate its success.

“From a pure marketing standpoint it’s hard to measure,” he says. “At the end of the day if we can get people tested, if we can sensitize even one person to get tested and stay clean, it’s worth it.”

The site will allow visitors to send personalized messages. Osborne says BMS will donate $1 to HIV/AIDS programs for every message sent.

The campaign has also partnered with the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (TPWAF). TPWAF will act as a local resource visitors to the site can contact.

“This is a campaign that targets a group we haven’t reached by other methods or targeted recently,” says Murray Jose, TPWAF’s executive director. “The viral technology, the use of U2 and Mary J Blige, they all speak to youth. Campaigns can be most effective when it’s clear who’s being targeted. The hope is it will take on a bit of a life of its own.”

The survey on the site reports the results of interviews with 200 subjects aged 18 to 30 in Toronto and Montreal in a range of bars, including both gay and straight, between 8pm and 4am. The survey showed that more than half the respondents preferred an orgasm without a condom because of the way it felt. In Toronto 69 percent of respondents said they were likely to have unprotected sex, compared to 48 percent of Montrealers. A majority of respondents who admitted having unprotected sex said their judgment was impaired by drugs or alcohol or that the risk turned them on.

The survey did not find any significant differences in high-risk sexual behaviour between men and women or between gay and straight respondents.

Osborne says there are currently no plans to expand the campaign beyond Canada.

“First we’re responsible for the Canadian market at BMS so our goal was to work at the country level,” he says.