SAN FRANCISCO – “Which one deserves to die?” – the controversial message featuring ten smiling Asian American physicians, beauty queens, basketball players, family members, and office workers has generated coast-to-coast buzz and headlines for the Hep B free movement.
Prominent nationwide print, television, and radio news organizations have featured the provocative ad campaign which brings the issue of death, caused by liver cancer, to the forefront, including the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, National Public Radio, and PBS News Hour to and local and ethnic Bay Area media.
Sunny Teo, Executive Creative Director of DAE Advertising and the brainchild behind the campaign, says it was vital to have such a shocking message to alert the public that 1 in 10 Asian and Pacific Islanders is chronically infected with hepatitis B compared to 1 in 1,000 for non-Asians.
The campaign appeared in local ethnic and mainstream newspapers, billboards, and bus transit boards in May 2010 in honor of 15th Anniversary of National Hepatitis Awareness Month and Asian Pacific Heritage Month. The campaign addressed the biggest reason for the Hep B epidemic: general lack of awareness about the disease especially among the Asian community who considers discussing illness and death a taboo.
“We felt in order to have impact, our communication needed to directly address the issue of death with a sense of urgency that involved families and social circles,” says Teo, whose company offered their serivces pro bono to the SF Hep B Free Campaign. “Anything softer would have resulted in an ad campaign with messages that nobody paid attention to or cared about.”
The intended provocative nature of the campaign even caused concern among some of the volunteer community models in the photo shoots.
“For months, there were concerns and debates, internally at the agency and within the Sf Hep B Free steering committee, about repercussions. There were fears of negative reactions [from the community] up to the eve of the launch,” recalls Teo. “But we believe the true message behind this came through—that everyone deserves to live, no one deserves to die.”
Teo believes the reasons the ad campaign has successfully resonated with the public is because of a combination of factors – the hard to ignore 1 in 10 statistics, the possibility of deatlh – one of life’s most fundamental subjects, and the participatory approach of the ads.
Grace Niwa, principal of Niwa Public Relations, suggests the ad campaign was such a hit because the models were “real people” from the Bay Area’s Asian American community.
“This brought the message close to home, since you could relate to the photo of someone that resembles a friend or family member,” says Niwa. “This also reminds the general public that anyone can be affected by Hep B and we should all work together to end Hep B and liver cancer.”
Niwa has been with SF Hep B Free since its inception in 2007 and says it has been very exciting to see Hep B Free evolve and become a national movement for Asian Pacific America. Her remarks were underlined by Ted Fang of the AsianWeek Foundation, a co-founder and Steering Committee member for SF Hep B Free. AsianWeek Foundation’s mission is to develop and promote the Asian American community.
“This is the first major market advertising campaign to feature all Asian American models, and Hep B Free is the largest organized social campaign ever for the Asian Pacific America,” said Fang. “Those are both milestones in the evolution of our community.”
Nobel Laureate Dr. Baruch Blumberg who discovered the Hepatitis B Virus and developed the Hepatitis Vaccine will be honored by the Chinese Hospital and San Francisco’s Hepatitis B community. The honor will take place at the Hep B Free Coast to Coast dinner on September 16 at the Regency Grand Ballroom. For ticket or sponsorship information, please go to sfhepbfree.org/gala/.