'Nashville Has AIDS' viral campaign uses true stories to get people talking

If you think you're not affected by AIDS, think again. Everyone in Middle Tennessee is touched by AIDS, one way or another. That’s the stark reality behind "Nashville Has AIDS," an awareness campaign launched by Nashville CARES this fall. The innovative initiative, which combines digital, email and social media elements, kicked off in early September.

Nashville CARES and Redpepper, a Nashville-based advertising agency, built the campaign around the personal stories of local people. Some are HIV-positive, others have lost a loved one to AIDS, and still others volunteer or work for Nashville CARES. Their stories, recorded in the form of letters or short videos, are posted on a new Website, www.ShareListenHelp.org. The videos are also posted on YouTube.com, making them easy to forward. Site visitors can also upload their own videos or letters, and share stories on a message board.

"We had never seen this kind of grassroots approach," said Kate Haygood, director of marketing and volunteers at Nashville CARES. "Redpepper brought a human touch that made our stories come alive on the page or screen, and kept them true to life."

Indeed, the stories are personal and compelling. A young woman named Shakarii lost her best friend to AIDS. In her video, she says, "It’s not just in Africa. It’s here; it’s in your school; it’s on your street; it’s the person you could be behind in the grocery store. They could have AIDS and you would never know it."

Each storyteller concludes by holding up a red sticker that reads: "Nashville Has AIDS – ShareListenHelp.org." The stickers are being distributed throughout Nashville and site visitors can sign up to receive one.

Print advertising is another component. Handwritten notes from people who have personally received support from Nashville CARES were inserted in the Sept. 5, issue of the Nashville Scene and the November issue of Out & About Newspaper, each note carrying a removable "Nashville Has AIDS" sticker. Similar handwritten poster ads are now appearing in Graffiti Indoor displays at local restaurants, entertainment venues and fitness centers.

To maximize the campaign’s impact, the launch was timed to coincide with Nashville CARES’ two largest fundraisers. The AIDS Walk on Oct. 6, featured oversize sidewalk stickers along the route reminding participants that they are helping neighbors, friends, families and themselves. At Artrageous on Nov. 10, "Nashville Has AIDS" will have a similarly visible presence at each venue.

The campaign is working. "There was a definite buzz about it at the AIDS Walk," says Haygood. "And while some people start out a bit uncomfortable with the starkness of 'Nashville Has AIDS,' it's getting us to talk about the ways HIV touches our lives, and how each of us can do something about it."

Go online, listen to the stories and share them with friends and family: www.ShareListenHelp.org.

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