Walgreens releases moving ad campaign featuring real life gay men with HIV

Walgreens wants to “grow old together” with HIV-positive customers, it says in a new marketing campaign.

In print magazines for gay and HIV-positive readers, ads feature seven varied HIV-positive, real Walgreens customers like Gregg with the headline, “Three decades positive, one positive outlook.”

Gregg, 58, is one of seven real customer stories, and he represents those in the lengthy fight against HIV/AIDS, says Karyn Lee, senior marketing manager, virology, for Walgreens: “Gregg is our sage leader, 30-plus years in SF in the Castro, and he does a lot of work with survivors. It’s important for you to see that there are people who are still talking about it and have been here 30-plus years.”

Online, a series of interactive of video interviews with diverse customers cover 10 stages, from diagnosis to the future.

One teary interview features 34-year-old Joshua and his mother, who admitted she was originally ashamed of him for being HIV positive. Joshua says, “To not have my family or their support there … I had to dig deeper into who I was, who I wanted to be, and if I wanted to live to see that.”

Sitting next to him, his mother now says, “I’m right there a hundred percent.”

The campaign’s cutest video pairs Walgreens pharmacist Andrew, a bearded redhead from San Francisco, with his real-life patient, Gregg. Andrew explains he’s at an HIV-specialized store and supports patients throughout their therapy. Gregg flirts a bit with Andrew (he’s wearing a wedding ring, Gregg!), then tells a story about how Andrew and other pharmacy staffers came to a long-term survivors dance Gregg organized in the Castro. They both almost tear up and share a hug.

Lee, says, “Andrew is one of our many, many (a couple thousand) staff who are specially trained to offer services in a standalone or everyday Walgreens store that you may not think is a specialized location.” (A list is available at HIV.walgreens.com)

To select the customer stories for the campaign, Lee explains “we talked to a variety of people in Chicago, San Francisco, and Atlanta who spanned ages, and identities and talked to them about their journey. What we took away is: if you’re newly diagnosed, there’s so much happening and a lot to process.

“We really wanted to build a campaign that put people’s stories first. We asked our customers, ‘Do you think a pharmacist could be part of the equation?’ They never realized that a pharmacist could be an unexpected ally.”

Lee herself has also personally worked in the fight against HIV/AIDS, both as a volunteer at nonprofit-AIDS Foundation of Chicago, and the founder of an organization in 2009 for women and girls affected by HIV/AIDS, called The Red Pump Project.

The Walgreen Company, based outside Chicago, is the second largest pharmacy store chain in the US, and worked with Austin ad agency GSD&M to develop the campaign.

Michael Wilke has covered LGBT issues in advertising for 23 years, is the founder of Commercial Closet/AdRespect.org, and Senior US Consultant for LGBT marketing and diversity firm Out Now.

h/t: Queerty


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