MTV put me in touch with Georgia Franklin, who headed the AIDS social responsibility program for MTV Networks International, which reaches about 2 billion people worldwide. The eventual result of that conversation was “Staying Alive,” a concert series with musicians P. Diddy, Alicia Keys, Usher, Missy Elliot, Dave Matthews, and Michelle Branch. It was a collaborative project between YouthAIDS, PSI, Levi’s, the Paul Allen Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and MTV. We produced the series in two parts: one in Seattle at Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project concert venue, and one in Cape Town, South Africa, at the Green Point football (soccer) stadium, where the World Cup will be played in 2010. There were 50,000 African kids in that Cape Town audience; most of them had HIV.
Later, MTV released a documentary about the concert series, which we helped distribute using our local contacts in countries with no MTV affiliates. The artists not only performed in the concerts but visited people infected with HIV in South Africa, and those visits became the basis for the documentary. Alicia Keys, for example, came with us to a clinic that cared for women about to give birth to babies infected with HIV. They had heard that she was coming and they had rehearsed her song “Fallin’.” When she walked in, and all of these beautiful pregnant women burst into her song, it was a very emotional moment for everybody.
YouthAIDS and PSI developed the commentary for the documentary. We focused on reducing the stigma and discrimination. In Africa, those are the biggest problems; people are unwilling to talk about AIDS because they fear being shunned. The risk of embarrassment only fuels the ignorance surrounding the transmission and spread of the virus. Levi’s, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Paul Allen were the three sponsors; the Gates Foundation donated ad time on MTV for public service announcements by prominent musicians. The concert and the documentary aired in 170 countries and reached 1.2 billion people. It also gave YouthAIDS the exposure it needed to recruit more help from the private sector.
Very early on, I realized that we needed a high-profile individual as a global ambassador, somebody who could be alluring for the media and our audience. I asked the actress and activist Ashley Judd to take that role. She generously agreed, and she has since opened many doors for us. She has graced the cover of dozens of magazines featuring YouthAIDS stories. Each year she visits a country as a YouthAIDS ambassador and we take a broadcast crew. We recently filmed a documentary for the Discovery Channel with actress Salma Hayek and the Colombian rock star Juanes. We wouldn’t have these opportunities without Ashley. Mainstream media, after all, is not interested in making a straightforward documentary; they want Ashley Judd in action in Africa or Salma Hayek traveling around Central America. Once you show that, then you can fit in nuggets of the real issue — which is the behavior change that people need to make. And you know that it will sink in. It’s escapist, perhaps, but people are also inspired by the fact that a beautiful and successful Hollywood actress cares enough about AIDS in a remote country to go there and raise awareness of the issue.
Marketing Behavior Change
At YouthAIDS we also promote the prevention of malaria and tuberculosis, two devastating diseases that, like HIV/AIDS, can be largely prevented by behavior change. When I first started this initiative, I thought issues like disease prevention were the same around the world. Methods for marketing yogurt and cigarettes, after all, translated well from country to country. But for communications on such topics as family planning, malaria, and clean water to register with people, the approach must be relevant to local cultures. For example, in Africa, the “sugar daddy” syndrome is common: Young girls growing up in desperate poverty habitually sleep with older men, not as prostitutes, but simply to curry favor, to receive gifts and money, or even to pass a school exam. When AIDS is prevalent (or, frankly, at any time), this is deadly behavior. So we have designed campaigns aimed directly at both the men and the girls, to help them reject all their reasons to maintain the status quo.