How often in this industry can we say we’re truly changing lives? How often are we given an opportunity to sell hope instead of product? Those briefs are few and far between. So when Walgreens asked us to create a campaign for their HIV-specialized pharmacies that could help build a better future for those affected by the disease, I was both humbled and elated.
Going into this project, I didn’t know much about HIV. I knew there had been advances in treatment and that people were living longer. But I didn’t know that doctors now consider HIV a chronic disease, not unlike diabetes or high blood pressure. If you’re diagnosed early and adhere to your treatment regimen, you can live a long, healthy life. That was news to me. And as we learned during our briefing, it was still news to the rest of world.
Stigma and fear are the biggest deterrents to getting tested and beginning treatment.
A few days after the briefing, I was sitting in my partner’s office kicking around ideas when he threw out, “Let’s Grow Old Together.” We saw the genius in it immediately. What better way to tell people that their diagnosis is not a death sentence than with the promise of old age. While the line was great, saying you were going to live a long time wasn’t enough. We needed to show people that they could actually grow old with HIV. And that’s when the idea of a virtual timeline came into existence—starting with diagnosis and going through every milestone of the HIV journey, all the way to retirement.
And what if we had people living with HIV be our guides along that timeline, sharing their stories, advice and inspiration at each milestone?
It was a big, ambitious idea—much bigger than the print ads, banners and trade show booths the client was expecting. It was also a digital-first idea, requiring a highly emotive and immersive site experience to truly do it justice. One of the first challenges we faced was integrating that experience into Walgreens.com, a primarily e-commerce destination. Finding the appropriate solution wasn’t easy. We worked tirelessly with Walgreens web team and our dev partner MediaMonks, ultimately landing on an elegant solution (plus I learned what canonical tags are).
With the technical part mostly ironed out, it was time to produce the content for the site. Two rounds of casting led us to seven amazing people leading full, happy lives in spite of their diagnosis.
Like a man who’d been diagnosed in the ’80s, an HIV-positive and HIV-negative married couple and a woman who’d only had two T cells at the time of her diagnosis. Walgreens also introduced us to an HIV pharmacist who has an incredible relationship with his patients—a you-couldn’t-script-something-this-sincere-and-heartwarming relationship.
The shoot was filled with tears, revelations and, most importantly, hope.
On the last day, one of the women we were interviewing revealed she’d never really believed she had a bright future until this shoot. Hearing the stories of others just like her had given her a new perspective. If creating the site was this meaningful for the HIV patients we were filming, imagine how transformative it could be for the rest of the HIV community.
Nearly a year from concept to creation, the site is now live, and we’re beginning to hear positive responses from the HIV community. I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t go into advertising to change lives. But now I can say it’s the reason I’ll stay in it.