Designing Functional HIV/AIDS Campaign Messages: The Need for a Multidisciplinary Approach
With an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 11.5%, 2000 new infections per day and an estimated 800 HIV/AIDS-related deaths per day, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has a severe negative impact on all aspects of South African society. Government and international and local NGO’s have responded with a variety of HIV/AIDS prevention, VCT, and care and support programs. Mass-mediated campaigns form important components of these programs as they aim to persuade those at risk to practice safer sex, go for an HIV-test , and to utilize the available care and support infrastructure should they test HIV-positive. Behavioural indicators clearly suggest, though, that these campaigns are not optimally functional, even if one acknowledges the need for policies and structural interventions to support the required behavior changes. Research shows that there are fundamental problems in the design of the messaging of the HIV/AIDS campaigns . One of these is the fact that the design of the messaging – often contrary to public claims by communication agencies - is still very much left to the “gut feelings” of campaign designers and copy writers. In this paper the focus falls on (i) problems with the design of the messaging of South African HIV/AIDS campaigns, both with regard to the design processes followed and the design features of the messages themselves, and (ii) international approaches to redress these problems . There is growing support in the research literature that the efficacy of campaign messages can be optimized if their design is tackled in a systematic way, if the messaging is based on theory-driven empirical research on the variety of complex variables that determine these problematic HIV/AIDS-related behaviours, if the messaging targets very specific audiences, and if they are culture and gender sensitive. This requires input from a variety of disciplines in different stages of the design and evaluation processes, as will be demonstrated in this paper.
Keywords: HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS Campaigns, Campaign Message Design
Prof. Piet Swanepoel
Professor, Department of Afrikaans and Theory of Literature, University of South Africa