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Responsible Marketing

Is MTV’s Staying Alive Foundation going too far?

By May 14, 2008June 29th, 20217 Comments

I am one of the few people that saw the very first video on MTV, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” I loved the channel, and I’d watch Mark Goodman and Nena Blackwood for hours on end.

I’m still a big music fan (I love, but I have to admit, I stopped watching MTV when they quit showing music videos around the clock. I guess I’m a a little out of touch: When I mention a band or current artist at the office, the twenty-somethings laugh at me.

Sniff sniff.

I’m not totally out of touch, but I will say these two public service announcements from MTV’s Staying Alive Foundation caught me off guard.

The first one is pretty funny. The second one is shocking. I wouldn’t play either one in the office or around children.

This ad I’d rate PG13 for Discovery Channel-like animal sex:

The following ad is definitely Rated R for sex and violence:

Made you uncomfortable? I bet.

But Gen Y needs to be entertained or shocked into paying attention, and this is a serious topic: Have unprotected sex and you could die.

So what do you think, Responsible Marketer, has MTV gone to far with the first video? The second? Both?

Comment below to weigh in.

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Ryan Dancey says:

    AIDS activism drives me nuts. So much money, so much awareness raised, so much social change pushed down through our communities to our children, on such a tiny, edge-case issue for the vast majority of our population.

    If you are a heterosexual living in a western developed nation, who is not excessively promiscuous, or in a relationship with someone who is excessively promiscuous, or involved with IV drug use, AIDS should not be on your Top 100 Things to Worry About. If you are a homosexual in a western developed nation, it might break the Top 50, at best.

    Every time I see stuff like this what I really see is a social waste of resources that have been severely mis-allocated. Lets think about things in the demographic that MTV targets that could be promoted before we get to AIDS prevention:

    Let’s get the percentage of obese kids under 6% (where it was in 1976, as opposed to over 18% where it is now).

    Let’s feed the percentage of hungry people (around 11%).

    Let’s ensure adequate preventative health care and treatment is available to the 8.7 million US kids who don’t have health insurance.

    There are 1 million people living with AIDS in the US, or .3% of the population. 40K new cases of AIDS were diagnosed in 2007. 67% of all the people with AIDS engage in homosexual acts, IV drug use or both.

    Last year, more people DIED in road accidents than were DIAGNOSED with HIV (which no longer kills you as long as you have health care).


    (And horrible marketing, in my opinion. WTF is MTV doing spending marketing dollars on anything other than fixing their abysmal brand equity?)

  • Ryan,

    This is a powerful commentary regarding the disproportionate amount of funding AIDS awareness gets versus other extremely important issues.

    From a sheer math standpoint, there are indeed bigger fish to fry.

    But really, do you blame them?

    If a group can gather the resources to battle for their cause, is it their fault if they outspend their less organized and funded counterparts?

    Or looking at it another way, do you have an issue that really matters to you?

    I do.

    My father suffered the effects of Parkinson’s Disease his entire life and had to quit work at age 31. This is a brutal disease that strips away a person’s ability to move.

    Until Muhammad Ali, Michael J. Fox and a few others went public, nobody even knew what Parkinson’s was.

    Number of people in the US suffering from Parkinson’s: 1.5 million. Awareness funding: Nowhere near the $ invested in AIDS awareness.

    Would I love to see BILLIONS go to Parkinson’s research?


    Do I have a problem with the $ being spent on AIDS awareness?

    Personally, not at all.

    Thanks so much, Ryan, for weighing in on this (and other posts in the past). Your insights add SO much to the conversation!

  • Deston says:

    As a parent, it’s a very tough call because MTV straddles (no pun intended) an audience of prepubescent teens and young adults. Given that many households don’t broach the subject with their kids (I did), these agencies seek to fill that gap (again, no pun intended). I know the idea is to shock, but it’s the type of thing that just drives a parent apeshit for younger teens. Is there a middle road? Not today, I fear. “Responsible Marketing” is an elusive concept to MTV anyway in my opinion. I have greater issues with their reality show programming than I do the ads.

  • Patrick – I’m a little torn on this one. On one hand I feel like an old foggie who thinks both commercials have gone too far, on the other, I applaud the producers who have done what they think it takes to get their message across. I do think they are responsible marketers, but feel like it is MTV’s challenge to only air these types of commercials at certain times of the night ..

  • We’ve been here before in the UK with the ultimately counterproductive ads of the late 80s presenting AIDS as a huge iceberg. It makes unprotected sex seem like a kind of extreme sport – great for media award ceremonies and making an impact between Linkin Park or 50 Cent videos (or whatever – I’ve never really watched MTV) but some people like freebase jumping (or like to think that they’d like it). It misrespresents the icky, messy, unpleasant-to-unbearable-degree slow reality of AIDS.

    So to me, it’s irresponsible because it’s ineffectual and could have the reverse effect. I mean, isn’t Dexter making serial killers cool again?

  • gp says:

    I must be getting old… I understand the point of the ads. However, I believe this sort of advertising fuels the fire. So many children have “it’ll never happen to me-itis”, that, to me, these ads only promote promiscuity. How many HIV at-risk people even watch MTV?

    I do know this: When I was in high-school, AIDS happened. What I mean is we learned about AIDS on the nightly news, and believe me, mom and dad didn’t want me learning about it on television or at school. No! Instead, we all learned about it together.

    On another note, has anybody besides me noticed how increased teen pregnancy, HIV, and other disease rates seemed to coincide with prevalence of sex education and condom distribution to school students? Gee! I didn’t have in state funded sex-ed or birth-control and I’ve been disease free my whole life… must be a coincidence. That said, the government has excellently marketed sex to our youth.

    Somehow, Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction a couple of years ago seems mild compared to those ads.

  • hmmm... says:

    Well, if 67% of people living with HIV got it from homosexual acts and drug use, 33% didn’t, what would you have to say to them? I personally know someone who got HIV from a visit to the hospital, do you think I should look her in the eye, and tell her how it’s really nothing, it won’t kill her as long as she has health care? Wouldn’t she be resting a lot easier if the person that provided blood for her transfusion had worn a condom in the first place? And what happens when her insurance provider drops her, assuming she even has adequate insurance to pay for her treatment in the first place? I wouldn’t want to be part of that 33%, or the other 67% either. Prevention is far cheaper than treatment, and if there is a way to get the message through to the kids that they should abstain or at least practice safer sex, I am all for it, AIDs is not the only preventable std out there, there are others that can kill you just as dead, and condom use can help with that as well.
    *Maybe the odds of acquiring AIDs are so low because of all the effort that has been put into educating the public and encouraging condom use, could that be it?*
    This commercial is clearly made for late night viewing by 20 somethings, and the fastest growing segment of new HIV cases really is young women under the age of 30. I thought the first one was hilarious, but overly light hearted in it’s approach to such a serious subject. The second one really gets the point across. If it were a possibility that having sex with someone could get you murdered point blank, you would be way more careful about who you do it with, and how you go about it. For a young woman, *any* man could be a loaded gun, and she should insist on a condom every time. Even married women get std’s when their husbands have been out fooling around and bring them home. It’s not just an issue for teenagers.
    If you see a fat kid, take him out and play baseball with him, if you see someone who’s hungry, buy him a sandwich, if you see someone who’s sick, take em to the hospital, and make sure they have care if they can’t afford it, if you go out in your car, respect the speed limits, and make sure you’re alert, and if you have sex, respect your partner and wear a condom. If there is a cause that you think needs more play than AIDs or any other social issue, don’t leave it all up to “they” or “them”, the power is in your own hands, if you are willing to accept it. Write to your congressman, start a charity for kids without health insurance, sponsor your own commercials, raise awareness of the issues that are important to you.
    “There are 1 million people living with AIDS in the US, or .3% of the population. 40K new cases of AIDS were diagnosed in 2007. ”
    These numbers smack of “they” and “them” as well. .3% is 30 %. 30 out of every 100 people you come in contact with this week have been diagnosed with HIV, and you won’t know who they are. If you meant to say 3%, .03, then 3 out of every 100 people you meet this week will be diagnosed with HIV. You also don’t know how many more have not been diagnosed yet. Your daughter, if you have one, also doesn’t know which 3 out of 100 guys she knows is infected. One of those guys might ask her out sometime.

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