German AIDS Charity in Bed With Hitler, Stalin

Shock and awe ad campaign depicts AIDS virus as mass murderer having sex.

ByABC News
September 8, 2009, 12:54 PM

Sept. 9, 2009— -- A provocative television ad ready to air next week in Germany suggests that when you have unprotected sex, you could be in bed with the devil himself -- Adolph Hitler.

In a shock and awe campaign that promotes December's World AIDS Day, Saddam Hussein and Josef Stalin are also leading men in a series of highly sexual videos that surfaced on YouTube this week.

The steamy ad opens in a darkened bedroom with a man and woman in bed, climaxing with a look-a-like of the German dictator's face and tag-line, "AIDS is a mass murderer - Protect yourself!"

The initiative came from the German charity, Regenbogen -- or "rainbow," which defends the campaign on its Web site: "Up until now 28 million people have died. And every day there are 5,000 new cases. Which is why AIDS is one of the most effective mass murderers in history."

European charities -- including the National AIDS Trust, which coordinates World AIDS Day in Britain -- have distanced themselves from the commercial, saying it further stigmatizes those who suffer from the disease.

But invoking fear by using a mass murderer as the face of a deadly disease is precisely what would make the ad successful, according to at least one public health specialist.

"It's effective because it raises awareness of the risk factors -- absolutely," said Dr. Amir A. Afkhami, instructor of psychiatry and behavior sciences and Global Health at George Washington University.

"This issue has come up among activists in the U.S. and there have been arguments that there needs to be more shock value," he told "The illness has become desensitized and the guards are down."

"There is such a degree of complacency toward HIV/AIDS awareness – but I am afraid the German campaign wins the stage on this issue," said Afkhami.

This controversy comes as the Kaiser Foundation finds that the number of Americans who list AIDS as the "most urgent health problem" is at its lowest level ever -- only 6 percent, compared with 44 percent in 1995.

The April report coincides with one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found the number of Americans newly infected with HIV/AIDS is 40 percent higher than previously reported -- 56,300.

Afkhami notes that the ad targets heterosexuals, particularly women, who, with African Americans, are one of the fastest growing groups afflicted with HIV/AIDS.

"There has been a lot of soul searching why this is occurring," he said. "The real failure on the part of health care advocates and social advertising has been raising awareness."

Today, with more-effective drugs to treat those infected with HIV/AIDS living, the disease is largely viewed as a treatable, chronic disease.

"It's less of the plague we saw in 1980s and 1990s," he said. "The grim reaper used to characterize AIDS."

The German TV spot, created by the Hamburg-based advertising agency Das Comitee, is accompanied by a series of posters and videos that have been available online. It also plans a radio ad using the voice of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

Creative Director Hans Weishäupl told the British newspaper, the Telegraph, that it proposed the Hitler film after being told by the German charity to come up with hard-hitting ideas.

"A lot of people are not aware that AIDS is still murdering many people every day," he said. "They wanted a campaign which told young people that it is still a threat. In Germany, Hitler is the ugliest face you can use to show evil."

But other health professionals believe that the ad is insensitive and confuses the message.

"The woman has obviously seen his face and chosen to be with him," said Jay Winsten, director of the Center for Health Communication at the Harvard School of Public Health. "So it not only stigmatizes her, it blames her. The important message about safe sex is completely lost."