Alternative Media: More than Just Cartoons

Animation is the latest medium to provide HIV-awareness information to the general public
Jun 30, 2006


George Koroneos
Live with it," named in tribute to the millions of people who refuse to allow HIV to destroy their lives, is a dark and gritty animated series that doesn't pull any punches when showing just how difficult it is to live with the disease. The series, produced by healthcare ad agency Ignite Health, is an example of how pharmaceutical companies can use non-traditional media to disseminate disease-awareness messages to new or wider audiences.

"The reason we chose [to make a dramatic cartoon] was because pharmaceutical, company-based, corporate-based education is always trying to show people that are enjoying sort of a freedom of lifestyle—that now because of these therapies they can smile and they can walk on the beach," says Fabio Gratton, chief innovation officer of Ignite Health. "We wanted to focus on a message that was a little bit more dramatic. And when you do drama, it requires tension; it requires a little bit of intrigue and mystery, and a little bit of drama in essence."


Figuratively Speaking Isaac Mudd and Trevor Goodman are two of the characters in Ignite Health's animated HIV-awareness series "Live With It."
The idea for the cartoon series was born out of the need for easier-to-digest educational materials, in a format other than print. Ignite self-produced the series (it was not hired by a pharma company), but the first two episodes of the series are sponsored by Gilead, the company that makes the HIV treatment Truvada. A short, skippable advertisement for Truvada appears before each episode begins, offering the viewer the option to click to the product Web site.

"There's so much noise and activism in the HIV space that we really needed something to break through," Gratton says. "And that was one of the critical lynchpins of our decision to look for something that was going to be a breakthrough strategy."

Live With It

The "Live With It" campaign was designed to capture what living with a disease is really like. Rather than focus on a specific product or therapy, the cartoons offer stories that aim to depict experiences to which patients can relate.


Multiple choice "Live With It" is a five-part series that can be downloaded to a computer, an iPod, or streamed directly from www.livewithit.com
In the series' first episode, the audience meets Isaac Mudd, a single, possibly gay, HIV-positive patient, as he makes his way to his first HIV support meeting. Through the story, he remembers how he found out he was infected and the depression that followed. At the meeting, he meets Trevor Goodman, who says to Mudd, "Start living with it. There'll be plenty of time to die later." Episode two, entitled "Trevor," picks up where the first episode leaves off. This time the focus is on Trevor's life, a married man struggling to tell his pregnant wife he is HIV positive.

Ignite Health extends the storyline through blogs created for each character on http://MySpace.com/, and message boards on a Web site that offer viewers the opportunity to review the episodes and leave comments. "We don't end the episodes by saying, 'And here's the lessons that you need to learn about this,'" Gratton says. "Everybody takes something different from it—some people will like it, some people won't. Some people will get it, some people won't."