Case Study: Vangardist HIV Heroes Issue

In May 2015 Vangardist, with help from Saatchi & Saatchi Geneva, published a magazine printed in the blood of HIV positive people.

The team at Saatchi & Saatchi found that the conversation around HIV had diminished in recent years, but a stigma around it remained. During their research, a startling fact emerged: that there had been an 80% increase in new HIV cases in the 10 years since 2004. As Jason puts it, “It struck us as strange that nobody was talking about this.” With their insight pinned down, it was time to find partners to help the idea happen. “The advice was to find an NGO to support us. So we approached a whole host of them.” But they were reluctant to get involved. “As soon as I understood we would not get NGO support I decided we would go ahead with the idea anyway. Sometimes when you’re trying to reignite a conversation you have to have that audacity and courage and go forward and do it.”
“The biggest challenge we faced was finding the right blood donors. It was a very public thing that we asked people to do,” Jason explains. The final donors, and interviewees, were to include a variety of people. “I believe HIV is more than just a gay issue, it affects the whole community. We found the donors who had the courage to match the audacity of the agency and magazine.”

The donors included a young gay man, a woman whose husband had been living with knowledge of HIV for 10 years and infected her without her knowing, and a straight man who had struggled to find support for his condition.
“We were instructed legally that we needed to put a warning on the magazine. But I argued that would take away from the shock value.” Explains Jason Romeyko
So they created what Jason calls a ‘moral dilemma’. Breaking the seal of an outer wrapper would allow you access to the magazine. The strap-line said it all: ‘Break the seal, help break the stigma’. 
“That moral dilemma that we added to it, which came from a legal issue, just made it better.”
The magazine was initially distributed to subscribers in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. But it wasn’t long until news spread… 
“Many people wrote us letters about how grateful we were that we made the magazine.” Continues Julian, “They had conversations with their partners, in gay and heterosexual communities, over ‘would you or wouldn’t you touch the magazine’. In this discussion they found out about their own thoughts about HIV. They found out something about themselves. They found out they had never talked about this important topic.”
And there have been benefits for the magazine too, “We are now known for this campaign, which is good; we like our readers to be progressive people who like strong ideas. Now wherever I go, even when I call someone in New York, they know about it. It gives credit to the brand and makes it easier for us to work internationally.”

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