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Celebrity Ambassadors Get the Brothers For Life Messaging Across

Download the presentation delivered at the EE Conference recently, Perceptions of the Value of Using Entertainers and Celebrities in Health Communication: The Brothers for Life Experience

People model their behaviour on that of others - and they are most likely to emulate the behaviour of successful people.

Download the presentation delivered at the EE Conference recently, Perceptions of the Value of Using Entertainers and Celebrities in Health Communication: The Brothers for Life Experience

People model their behaviour on that of others - and they are most likely to emulate the behaviour of successful people.

This is the rationale behind the use of celebrity Ambassadors by the Brothers for Life campaign, which aims to stimulate a men's movement that promotes more responsible health and lifestyle behaviours.

But while celebrity endorsements add substantial value to responsibility campaigns such as Brothers for Life, they represent a double-edged sword. The celebrities themselves are constantly in the public eye and fodder for the media - and their peccadilloes, real or unsubstantiated, can substantially undermine a campaign's messaging, the recent 5th Entertainment Education Conference was told by Richard Delate, managing director of Johns Hopkins Health and Education in South Africa, one of the key partners behind Brothers for Life.

The Entertainment Education Conference, held in India between 17 and 20 November 2011, brought together communication experts from across the world to examine the use of entertainment education in support of health-related programmes.

Since its inception in August 2009, Brothers for Life has used several celebrities in the fields of sport and entertainment to promote its messaging.

Sports stars include South African footballers Teko Modise and Matthew Booth; international footballers Thierry Henry, Patrice Evra, Mame Diouf, Yaya Toure, Lionel Messi, Keita and Ryan Giggs; rugby players John Smit, Bandisa Maku and Tiger Mangweni; and cricketer Graeme Smith. Entertainment Ambassadors include actors Patrick Shai and John Kani; musicians Theo Kgosinkwe and Tshepo Maseko; comedian Trevor Noah; and sports journalist Tiyani wa ka Mabasa.

The original intention had been to use only soccer stars for Ambassadors, but campaign pre-testing revealed that this created the impression that the campaign was only aimed at black people, and that HIV is a black disease.

By expanding the Ambassador base, however, Brothers for Life was able to embed the values of universal brotherhood, explore the meanings of global and national unity in combating HIV, support the government's national HIV counselling and testing campaign, and foster national unity in relation to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa.

Ambassadors were linked to specific health messaging - so, for example, Smit promoted HIV testing, Smith condom use and Booth faithfulness to one sexual partner. Shai, a reformed abuser, took a stand against gender-based violence; the Springbok rugby team in 2010 also supported this messaging for the 16 Days of Activism Against Violence on Women and Children campaign.

They did so through radio and television public service announcements, outdoor billboard advertising in high-traffic areas, writing opinion articles expanding on why they support Brothers for Life, and by mobilising others to act on the issue being addressed.

"Our use of celebrity Ambassadors showed clearly that the messenger is as important as the message," says Brothers for Life project manager Mandla Ndlovu.

"Feedback we have received from the public shows that where there is strong identification with the celebrity, message retention is high. In a sports-mad country like South Africa, the use of sporting personalities has attracted a lot of attention to the messages being propagated."

Ndlovu continues that incorporating real stories, as opposed to simply using celebrity endorsements, has also had a strong resonance with audiences.

"For example, the television public service announcement on gender-based violence, featuring Patrick Shai crying as he related his previous abuse of his wife and children, compelled people to watch it. They related to his story, were moved by it, and they remembered its message," says Ndlovu.

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