A message worth repeating: Is it time to reprise the campaigning Aids posters and ads of the early years?

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The number of patients in the UK being treated for Aids-related illnesses has trebled in a decade.

It was the mid-1980s, and the spectre of Aids loomed large. As the mysterious, incurable syndrome gradually began to affect more and more people, a series of bold national campaigns forced awareness on the public. From the famous "Don't Die of Ignorance" adverts to Benetton's collage of patient faces, the message was clear: unprotected sex could cause HIV.

Nearly 30 years on and there are calls for such boundary-breaking ads to be commissioned once again. Since the heady days of the Eighties and Nineties, the public mood has relaxed; Aids increasingly seemed, in Europe at least, to be a thing of the past.

Antiretroviral therapy has meant that fewer people were dying, and the scale of the African epidemic dwarfed our own experience. But complacency has come at a cost. In the past decade, the number of people in the UK being treated for Aids-related illnesses has trebled. It is estimated that by next year, almost 100,000 people will be HIV-positive. The burden on the health service is, inevitably, enormous: the cost of managing the condition has gone from £500m in 2006-07 to £760m in 2009-10.

So what is it that makes a successful awareness-raiser? During the 1990s, clothing company Benetton ran a series of ads designed to shock – including a portrait of the dying Aids activist David Kirby with his family. The results were both memorable and engaging.

Toto Ellis is strategy director of TBWA\London, the agency that dreamt up Don't Die of Ignorance. "It's about capturing the imagination," he explains. "Finding a clever, creative vehicle for a serious message. People are saturated with charities and big issues, so you need to cut through that."

Don't Die of Ignorance was a classic example of lateral thinking: it didn't just point out the obvious, that Aids kills. Instead, it personalised the message: your own ignorance could be the death of you – an infinitely more relatable threat than a then-mysterious disease.

Time for a reminder?

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