Alternative Media: More than Just Cartoons - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Alternative Media: More than Just Cartoons
Animation is the latest medium to provide HIV-awareness information to the general public


Pharmaceutical Executive


In creating the cartoon, Ignite picked characters and story lines that captured the full spectrum of dealing with the diagnosis of a disease: coping with denial, disclosure, and living. "Whether you're gay or straight, or whether you're African-American or white or Hispanic, we knew that we have an audience that is very diverse and experiences the disease in very different ways," Gratton says. "And so we thought that telling these stories in the serial format would be best."

"Live With It" isn't your standard PSA-quality educational content. Similar in animation style to the Grand Theft Auto series video games, with a background and plot that is as bleak as the movie Sin City, the two cartoons available follow the tale of two men who find out they have HIV, and the path they take to cope with it. Aggression, anger, despair, and frustration are written all over the characters' faces as they are forced to explain their situation to their family and partners.

Judging by the feedback on the company's message board, the cartoons are striking a nerve with most viewers. Positive responses range from simple thank yous to short stories detailing first-hand accounts of those struggling with HIV, and even some tips on how others can live with the disease. "We certainly ran a risk by going into an area like HIV," Gratton says. "Because of the activism in that space, there's a lot of people that are very vocal about what they perceive to be any outgoing message that's being put out there. And I'd say 99 percent of the feedback we've received has been extremely positive."

Distribution Channels

Since the cartoons were self-produced, funding proved to be a challenge. Ignite chose a public broadcasting model, using funding from grants and its sponsor, Gilead (the firm is trying to attract other sponsors for future episodes). Once the cartoons were live on the site, Ignite had to drive traffic to the site. According to Gratton, the cartoons are too expensive to self-market—to produce and distribute in-house banner ads, search engine submissions, and pay for the development of the media. So Ignite approached HIV-awareness Web site The Body, which agreed to support and distribute "Live With It" without ever seeing the first episode.

Eventually, Ignite's Web site traffic expanded through partnerships with sites with well-known HIV-positive viewership, such as AEGiS, http://Gay.com/, and http://Gayhealth.com/. But the biggest jump in visitors comes from word of mouth. "People see [the cartoon] and then they write about it on blogs and on their own message boards and add it to their favorite links," Gratton says. "Over time, we've started to get a tremendous amount of traffic from consumer-generated media."

According to Gratton, the Live With It Web site has received traffic from more than 120 countries, and receives approximately 1,000 original visitors every month. The video also is syndicated through iTunes, VEOH, YouTube, and Google Video.

Branching Out

Ignite is currently looking at expanding Live With It's reach to other countries and outlets. A full Spanish-translated version is in the works. Rather than just add subtitles, the company plans to dub audio over the English voices. To reach people without broadband Internet access, the company is looking to create graphic novels that would be distributed along with a DVD of the cartoons.

Ignite also has received requests for a version of the cartoons with a more educational bent. It would include a separate piece that uses the same characters, but incorporates more educational messages about where people should go to get treatments. Episodes four and five will be created as soon as the company secures sponsors.

George Koroneos is Pharmaceutical Executive's associate editor. He can be reached at


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