Explicit adverts 'best at raising Aids awareness'

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THE 'DOOM-LADEN' Aids campaign posters favoured by the Government are a turn-off to young people most at risk, according to a psychologist who studied public reaction to the images.

Dr Jan Stockdale, a lecturer in social psychology at the London School of Economics, will tell the annual convention of the Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers in Birmingham today that explicit, amusing, joyful and even erotic anti-Aids posters are more likely to get their message across.

She asked a cross-section of men and women of all ages to assess a number of Aids advertising posters, and found that graphic posters which emphasise that sex is trendy and fun are more likely to be seen as relevant than straightforward information or images of icebergs and graveyards.

Dr Stockdale asked one group of 24 people, half of whom were homosexual and half heterosexual, for their reaction to a range of posters, including two issued by the Health Education Authority.

Many of the posters emphasised the dangers of unprotected sex by referring to illness and death. One HEA poster said: 'If you're planning to have sex in the next 30 years, spend two minutes reading this', and followed it with several paragraphs of small print.

Homosexuals were able to relate to the message, but heterosexuals were much more likely to believe the posters did not concern them. One problem was that the posters were aimed at everybody instead of being closely targeted, Dr Stockdale said.

A second group of 49 people were shown posters from the Terrence Higgins Trust, the Aids advice charity, which were much more graphic, sexy, provocative, amusing and controversial.

'They present the happy rather than the sombre face of sex,' Dr Stockdale said. 'The posters are in line with the more explicit European advertising, which assumes that most people enjoy sex.'

Young people were positive about the campaign. The message that safe sex was trendy, fun, did not interfere with love and was practised by attractive people was one that most said they could enthusiastically endorse.

The most successful poster showed two naked people with the words 'It's that condom moment'. Most people found it amusing and said it carried the clearest message. 'Aids campaign posters have to be made more personalised and relate to people's lifestyle,' Dr Stockdale said.

Nearly 1 million calls for advice were received by the National Aids Helpline last year, a 32 per cent increase on 1990. The number of the helpline, whose pounds 1.8m a year funding comes from the Department of Health, is 0800 567123. Calls are free and do not appear on itemised bills.