Brand appeal Living with AIDS # 291

Brand appeal  Living with AIDS # 291'€œBranded VCT'€, which used a popular fashion label to get young people to test for HIV late last year, showed that brands have a unique ability to influence society.

‘€œBranded VCT’€, which used a popular fashion label to get young people to test for HIV late last year, showed that brands have a unique ability to influence society.

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KHOPOTSO: In only six weeks, the campaign succeeded in testing more than 4 000 young people in three major cities. It was a joint venture between Levi’€™s jeans and a non-profit HIV testing service provider, New Start. American Cal Bruns, Chief Executive of creative company Matchboxology, is the brain behind the campaign.


CAL BRUNS: We did 58 mobile stations. We also tested people in the permanent New Start facilities in Cape Town, Durban and Jo’€™burg – and the entire exercise was contained to those three cities. We increased (New Start) clients by 63% in that period ‘€“ a significant increase which they completely attribute to the Levi’€™s participation. But this is the interesting part, hey: The biggest challenge is to get young people to test. They are the worst, statistically, at actually accessing VCT. 32% of our 4 000 were 15 ‘€“ 24 year olds. It’€™s actually a 101% increase in the under 25s versus what New Start had seen.


KHOPOTSO: Bruns says he has taken away an important lesson from the exercise.  


CAL BRUNS: It’€™s actually staggering to think that, when encountering one of these tents in a place like Rosebank or Sandton, a kid who has just gone there to hang out for the day would get tested. But people did it. And that’€™s, I think, probably the most interesting fact to come out of this whole exercise. We have the wrong perceptions about people’€™s ability to want to be tested. We just have to present it in a better way.    


KHOPOTSO: But just what did the campaign involve to attract young people?


CAL BRUNS: Branded VCT. First time ever anywhere in the world. A consumer brand. Put their name on VCT’€¦ We picked VCT for three reasons. One, it is pragmatic change-behaviour action’€¦, some sophisticated youth marketing, the other part of which is what you call peer-to-peer educators’€¦ is word of mouth’€¦ the strongest piece of marketing you can use. And the last thing that we recognised is that Levi’€™s has a strong brand clout in this country and if we put our name onto something that we want people to achieve, even though there’€™s somewhat of a disconnect, we think that people will be more likely to do it. We didn’€™t know when we started it. This was the grand experiment.              


KHOPOTSO: The experiment showed that with an established name, doors that were once impenetrable can be unlocked.      


CAL BRUNS: New Start provided the VCT expertise. The Levi’€™s name is what helped get VCT in this way onto universities, onto malls and into some new places in townships’€¦ Places like Sandton City had never before had mobile testing. And they said it was ‘€˜inappropriate’€™. But when we talked to them about this, they said ‘€˜oh, cool. Okay, Levi’€™s, cool’€™.  


KHOPOTSO: The campaign was run under the slogan, ‘€œWork it out for yourself’€ and it was driven by three objectives.


CAL BRUNS: Personal responsibility is not something that this country has been particularly strong on marketing, but it needs to be’€¦ The basic precepts of it were test yourself, learn the truth, make your plan.


KHOPOTSO: To encourage their fans, celebrities popular with the youth including radio DJs, actors and musicians tested with the Levi’€™s ‘€“ New Start campaign. A rather high-profile workplace testing exercise also took place last World AIDS Day.  


CAL BRUNS: I probably shouldn’€™t tell you this, but I’€™m going to tell you this, anyway’€¦ We were in the Office of the Presidency. The President did not test nor did the Vice-President. But the Office of the Presidency did test’€¦ They didn’€™t want any publicity about it’€¦ They said regular employers don’€™t talk about this kind of thing. But the fact of the matter is that they have turned the corner and I think that’€™s a huge step  forward.                                            

KHOPOTSO: Bruns says that is a clear indication that brands have a unique ability to influence every layer of society, but laments the fact that fewer brands have joined South Africa’€™s response to HIV/AIDS. He urges employees of other brand companies to encourage their CEOs and brand managers to rise up to the challenge.                                  


CAL BRUNS: How many of your next 100 employees or next 100 000 customers were HIV-negative today will become HIV-positive in the next five years because your brand and others like it were too scared to do something?