Programming Connection

It’s Different Now and Change HIVstory: A Social Marketing Campaign 

Vancouver STOP Project
Vancouver, British Columbia


In November 2011, the Vancouver STOP Project developed and launched a city-wide, award-winning, social marketing campaign to change how the general public perceived HIV and HIV testing. In particular, this campaign was designed to increase awareness of and prepare people for a new approach to HIV testing recently rolled out in the city. The new approach to testing includes the integration of a routine offer of HIV testing in family practice and in hospitals. The campaign was also designed to reduce HIV-related stigma.

The campaign was developed around a central theme — that HIV isn’t the disease it was in the 1980s and used the tagline “It’s Different Now” to highlight that. The campaign was disseminated on social media, through a website, through posters in healthcare settings, and through outdoor and print ads. Contests were run in order to increase traffic to the website, which included more detailed information about HIV. Messages were fine-tuned and specific: all sexually active people should be tested for HIV, HIV testing technology has improved, HIV treatment has improved, and the prognosis after an HIV diagnosis has improved. The campaign spread the message that it’s now possible to live a long, healthy life with HIV.

It’s Different Now was implemented in two phases. The first phase focused on reducing stigma associated with HIV by increasing awareness about who should get tested, and how HIV testing, treatment and prognosis have advanced, thereby encouraging people to agree to take an HIV test when offered one. The second phase was a call to action — it aimed to rally Vancouver residents to help eradicate HIV by getting tested and encouraging their friends to get tested.

Overall, Different Now aimed to change how people think about HIV and generate discussion about HIV in the community. According to Scott Harrison, program director, urban and mental health at Providence Health Care and a member of the team that developed the campaign, it accomplished this. It’s Different Now got “some really interesting conversations going and that is what we needed. It’s what B.C. needs and what Canada needs, which is a conversation about HIV.”