Love Yourself

A recent Youth AIDS campaign really sticks in the minds--and hands--of those who come across it.

The inside of the two-page ad is completely black and, well, stuck together. The left side says, "Practice safe sex," while the adjoining page carries the Youth AIDS logo and the message, "AIDS is still out there and it still kills. To learn more visit"

Opening the ad can be likened to ripping open the page of an old photo album where a transparent sheet adheres to a sticky background. The effect adds a distinctive sound to what normally is a non-audio medium.

The faux semen effect was created courtesy of some lo-tac tape (I asked) that can be peeled off and cut into any shape.

The ad launched in the May issues of Maxim and Blender Magazines and was created by Cliff Freeman and Partners, which was awarded the Youth AIDS account earlier this year.

The campaign targets 15- to 24-year-old men (and fifty percent of all new infections occur in this age range, regardless of gender); the irony of the ad running in a laddie mag is not lost on the team working on the account.

"Maxim promotes sex, so we turned the tables by promoting one of two ways of having safe sex--abstinence or self-loving--in the magazine," said Sherrod Melvin, art director at Cliff Freeman. "Maxim can be found in many a dorm room bathroom," he continued.

Back when I was in college (Maxim wasn't around just yet) it seemed that the free Victoria's Secret catalogs found strewn about the mailroom were the preferred bathroom material on the guys' floor.

"College kids think they're immune [to contracting AIDS]. We went with the target audience," Melvin added.

I brought the magazine around my office to see how my male co-workers would feel about the ad. Their reactions can be best described in three words: open, squirm, return.

Interestingly enough, one co-worker, who already had the magazine at home, told me that he'd never bothered to open the ad, assuming it was a promotional piece, because attractive women are found on both sides of the ad.

The ongoing campaign also included a guerilla component, a partnership with fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon (Sig Ep), that coincided with AIDS Day.

400 volunteers from New York University gathered at Washington Square Park and walked around the streets with signs on their backs. The sign was an updated version of a childhood kick-me sign, meant to symbolize the fact that many people living with Aids don't know they have the disease. Anyone who stopped the volunteers to say, "hey, there's something on your back," was given a card and URL for researching further information, said Brad Emmett, associate creative director at Cliff Freeman.

This is a hard-hitting message for people, especially the young, to swallow. For Youth AIDS' print campaign--with advanced apologies to Marshall McLuhan--it looks like the semen is the message.

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