Good-Looking Samaritan

Good-Looking Samaritan

South African businesses are stepping up awareness campaigns about HIV, as high-risk youth become increasingly impervious to messages from traditional sources.
Photo Credit: Flickr
Joining the HIV battle makes for good business. Photo Credit: Flickr
Behaviour change has been widely identified as the key to reducing new HIV infections, but so far neither governments, religious leaders nor AIDS organisations have had significant success in convincing large numbers of people to change their risky sexual behaviour.

The late-comer to trying to address this problem is the corporate sector: the source of marketing and advertising experts with the best proven track record in influencing behaviour.

Cal Bruns is one such man. His resume includes designing advertising campaigns to sell Coca-Cola to township dwellers. Now, he and his partners have moved into the business of "corporate social opportunity." His company, Matchboxology, has been finding ways to use the branding power of well-known clothing company Levi Strauss to market HIV/AIDS messages to young South Africans since 2005.

In describing his company's work with Levi Strauss, Bruns makes the distinction between 'corporate social responsibility', a familiar term in the business and non-profit worlds, and 'corporate social opportunity'.

The difference, he told delegates at the "HIV/AIDS: Impact on Business" conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday, lies in viewing a company's philanthropic endeavours as valuable business opportunities rather than as a small but necessary drain on profits.
Red products tap into consumer desires both to "do good" and to be seen wearing fashionable brands.


The willingness of big-name retailers like Motorola, Gap and American Express to join the 'Red' campaign, which sells Red-branded products to raise money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, showed that "doing good is good for business".

Bruns said retailers were jumping on the Red bandwagon, not merely out of benevolence, but because it made good business sense. Red products tap into consumer desires both to "do good" and to be seen wearing fashionable brands. As the Red website puts it: "What better way to become a good-looking Samaritan?"

In South Africa, a highly visible HIV/AIDS campaign has raised the profile of Levi Strauss among consumers and potential employees, while delivering HIV/AIDS messages in ways that appeal to young people - a high-risk group becoming increasingly impervious to safer sex messages from more traditional sources like schools and NGOs.

"We could have chosen another issue, but HIV and AIDS was the major issue facing South African youth today," said Winston Pratt, human resources director for Levis Strauss South Africa. "The most vulnerable group [for HIV infection] are 15- to 24-year-olds, the same group that makes up our core customers."

In 2006, Levi Strauss partnered with New Start, an NGO that specialises in delivering voluntary counselling and testing services (VCT), to bring mobile testing units to shopping malls, university campuses and streets in South Africa's three major cities: Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.

Apart from giving New Start's counsellors additional training in how to deal with adolescents, young people were offered incentives like free tickets to 'Rage for the Revolution', an awareness-raising musical event that was part of the clothing manufacturer's 'Red for Life' HIV/AIDS initiative.

During the six-week campaign, 4,082 people were tested at New Start clinics, of whom 32 percent were 15- to 24-year-olds, an age group that has proved particularly hard to reach with HIV testing.

In the past year, Levi Strauss has also partnered with Cosmopolitan magazine and others to distribute condoms branded with its logo.
Corporate social opportunity can change the battle against HIV and AIDS in Africa.


"By putting the logo of a very aspirational brand on a condom, and putting them into magazines and taking them to kids at events and clubs, you'd be shocked at how fast they disappear," said Bruns.

Levi Strauss is launching a line of clothing in 2007, bearing AIDS-savvy slogans like: 'I can buy my own damn Levi's, Sugar Daddy' and 'If you're too scared to test, you're too scared for me.'

Brad Mears of the South African Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS (SABCOHA) believes there is potential for businesses to become much more involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS. "We haven't harnessed the real power of the private sector," he said. "If you want a business person to think about HIV, you've got to speak to them in business terms."

Part of bringing a more business-like approach to corporate philanthropy, said Pratt, was considering sustainability. Incorporating social responsibility initiatives into a company's core business made better sense than making annual donations to a chosen cause.

"We've got to travel this road together," Bruns told the conference. "If only one brand does this, they've got limited financial ability to make the tipping point. We need lots more brands to get involved. Corporate social opportunity can change the battle against HIV and AIDS in Africa."




Reprinted with permission from IRINnews.org © IRIN. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.

To read another Global Envision article about HIV/AIDS and the corporate world, see Brazil Reaches AIDS Drug Deal With Abbott.



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