Brand appeal Living with AIDS # 291
‘Branded 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.
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, ‘Work 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?