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December 3, 2004


Viral* Marketing

Phil the Sore

Sometimes, the hard-hitting investigative journalists at Amy's Robot are called on to make tough decisions in bringing you the highest quality news in a timely fashion. For instance, when we hear that television stations in L.A. are refusing to air commercials featuring a 6-foot syphilis sore, we're faced with two competing instincts - thinking it's an elaborate media hoax, and wanting to slap it up on the 'bot immediately.

However, after some preliminary research, the story appears to be true. The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and progressive ad agency Social Marketing created "Phil the Sore" in 2002 to raise awareness of the alarming resurgence of syphilis. Phil's many public appearances are documented on the "Stop the Sores" website, and he's also been featured on billboards and in print ads.

But seeing a big lumpy sore (even one who looks more like a California Raisin) at gay pride parades is quite different from seeing him on your television. The ad, in which Phil follows two men home from a club and then invites his buddies "brain damage", "rash" and "blindness" along, didn't go over so well with Los Angeles network affiliates living under the constant threat of FCC fines.

"We found it to be inappropriate for a broadcast audience," says a KCBS-TV Channel 2 spokesman, ominously adding: "We consider the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases to be a serious matter. It's an issue we have addressed and will continue to recognize through fair, accurate and balanced news reporting."

Los Angeles county public health director Dr. Jonathan Fielding counters: "My question would be, 'Is this content more "adult" than others that are being shown … in the evening hours?' "

Yes and no, Dr. Fielding. The difference is clearly that the DHS ad addresses and raises consciousness about a serious health issue. And all good Americans know adult situations are meant for entertainment purposes only! We sure like to see sex on the tv - just not the consequences of it.

But in the time-honored tradition of "any publicity is good publicity", Phil's spot may end up being seen by more people than the DHS ever intended. The story has already been picked up by national news agencies and like syphilis itself, is likely to keep spreading.

You can watch Phil's ad on the Stop the Sores website, which also features community resources and a page of symptoms with really, really gross pictures that are not appropriate for work viewing.

*Note from the Amy's Robot Genomics Bureau: Syphilis is not a virus. It's a type of bacteria called a spirochete.

categories: Culture, Health, Media, Politics, TV
posted by Emily at 10:02 AM | #

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