Perhaps you’ve seen the baffling ad campaign that seems to be about HIV awareness. If you walked through College station over the summer and had something resembling functional eyesight, you couldn’t have missed it.

Wall-height subway ad for ExploreHIV.ca

But if you bothered to read the ad copy (at first I didn’t), you learned it was actually a campaign for combination therapy. The only credit on the ads is an URL, ExploreHIV.ca. That Web site tells you not very much. What it definitely doesn’t tell you is who placed the ads. Who’s behind this campaign?

  • The Canadian pharmaceutical lobby group didn’t know.

  • Neither did Peter Staley.

  • Mail sent to the privacy address of that Web site went unanswered.

  • Somebody at CATIE surely must have known the identity of the advertiser, but Tim Rogers there didn’t answer my question.

  • Bristol-Myers Squibb denied being behind it. This basically left one option: Gilead, the other maker of combination therapies. (Two of the three combination therapies are actually joint ventures.)

Eventually, after a couple of E-mailed questions, yes, Gilead admitted to being behind the ad campaign. So far they haven’t told me who their ad agency was, nor has a reasonably thorough search of the marketing literature able to bring that up. It stood to reason the agency was Navicor, Gilead’s agency of record, but Navicor’s parent company denied having anything to do with it.

But did you notice the other odd thing about this campaign? No white guys.

  • The homepage beauty shot (also the subway ad) shows a couple of Arabs or Farsis gazing longingly at each other while leaning on a Citroën DS at an open airplane hangar. (You can almost feel the boners. And didn’t they stash the Ark of the Covenant in there?)

    This of course is a common meet-cute scenario for nonwhite gays in Canadian cities.

  • Other images from the Web site show various South Asians, subcontinentals, Indics, Arabs, Middle Easterners, Maghrebis, and/or Persians or Farsis in whatever fanciful combinations. They end up looking like the Sauditrash closet gay playboys you see on the Instagrams.

    • Nonwhite guys in convertible on the open road
    • Nonwhite guy gazes longingly at another, who bashfully looks down
  • Oh, and there’s one Oriental… out for a tête-à-tête with somebody who isn’t white or Asian. As if that’s gonna happen outside queer-supremacist political circles.

    Chinese guy gazes meaningfully at ethnically ambiguous nonwhite guy
  • All this makes even less sense in French. That’s because there are, I surmise without doing a survey, fewer nonwhite gays in Montreal. (That’s the actual target market of the French campaign – this ad is from Fugues.) The chance they’d hook up with each other is basically nil. Unless they were each other’s refuge from pure laine racism, which I would actually buy.

    French ad with guys in convertible

I suppose it’s also interesting that not a single model is indisputably black. Isn’t that RAYSISS?

The whole campaign is ridiculous for a number of reasons. We determined early on in AIDS awareness that such campaigns have to be population-specific. Want Gaysians to stop barebacking? Show Gaysians in your ad. Don’t show white people. The converse is also true.

If you think that point is debatable, well, you’re at the wrong Web site, and anyway, try the mental experiment of running AIDS campaigns featuring perfect white boys (with hairy chests you can run your fingers through) alongside ad copy in Chinese or Vietnamese.

Put together, when you show a group an ad featuring models that clearly do not represent that group, they won’t believe your message, they’ll feel manipulated, or they’ll get angry. (Or all three.)

Even in a multiracial city like Toronto, the pictures in this campaign do not depict how pairs of homosexualist men ever line up. You will never find Citroën-driving Arabs or Indics or Persians cruising each other. It ain’t gonna happen.

I am not expressing fear of a black planet. I am plainly stating that this isn’t how gay Toronto is. I could see something like this happening at Didier Lestrade’s Black Blanc Beur antiracism gay parties in Paris de l’époque. (Inapplicable here.) Maybe, just maybe, you could point to those Gaysian-themed dance parties I gather they still put on, but you tell me if the clientele there involves pairs of Middle Easterners gazing longingly into each other’s eyes.

Let’s also discuss the fact that, for reasons of internalized racism or personal preference or who cares what else, nonwhite guys are much more interested in white guys than vice-versa. Of course there are still rice queens. I remember walking down Church St. of a summer night and noticing five Oriental guys milling around obviously wondering where to go next. Standing near their group, ignored, a full head taller, older, balding, and with a hopeful smile on his face, was a white guy. Put that on an AIDS billboard and I’ll buy it.

(When asked, Gilead didn’t explain why these racial configurations were chosen, or why there weren’t any white guys in the campaign.)

Anyway, most gay men with HIV in Canada are white. (So are most gay men in Canada.)

  • The Public Health Agency of Canada reported on results from the Canadian Community Health Survey (2007–2008), which found that gay and bisexual male respondents were mostly Canadian-born and white (over 80% for both). The same survey couldn’t produce statistically significant numbers for nonwhites, except that 4.2% claimed to be aboriginal.

  • A different reporting system summarized in the above report, M-Track, found Asians at 4.2%, Latin Americans at 3.4%, and African/Caribbean (also ambiguous, but mostly black, I gather) at 2.6%. Two other categories, Southern European and British Isles, are either ambiguous or mostly white, I believe, and I’m not quoting the numbers here.

  • Separate figures from 2009–2010 (from the Ontario HIV Epidemiologic Monitoring Unit or OHEMU [PDF]) showed that 65.6% of 493 gay respondents (excluding gays who also used intravenous drugs) were white. Blacks were 10.5%, Arabs/West Asians 2%.

    For the latter category (30 gay+IVDU subjects), 82.1% were white.

Rates of AIDS infection can be higher in nonwhite communities. Other figures from OHEMU, from a different survey, show HIV prevalence high in minority groups surveyed – 24.3% white, but 40.6% aboriginal, 17.7% African/Caribbean, 38.2% Latin American, and 30.5% for “Multi-Ethnic/Other.” Hence of course I can see the need for AIDS campaigns to ethnic and cultural groups.

But the ExploreHIV campaign isn’t one of those. This general-interest campaign, aimed at all gay men in Toronto and Montreal, hides its sponsor and lies about and to its audience.

I wonder what kind of person would excuse this many layers of deception.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2013.10.05 08:16. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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