Syphilis? Huh? Is that still a thing? According to a new campaign from the New Zealand AIDS Foundation and Durex, yes, the seemingly archaic disease is very much a 21st-century problem.
In New Zealand syphilis diagnoses have increased from approximately 200 in 2014 to over 1,500 last year. The new campaign created by FCB New Zealand looks to put the problem back where it belongs; in the dark ages.
Modern pick-up lines, such as “Down to f*ck?” have been given a Shakespearean makeover – “Art thee down to fornicate?” There is also an update to trying to get your partner to participate in a threesome with “Fanciest though a thrice way?” Even Kiwi classics are given a dated feel – “Dost thou wanteth a root?”
“Syphilis is not something many people thought they’d have to worry about in their lifetimes, so there’s a real lack of knowledge about it,” said Mickey Power, marketing, communications, and fundraising manager, NZAF.
“People are not schooled up on its symptoms, the way it’s transmitted or how to find out if they have contracted it.
“NZAF is on a mission to end new HIV transmissions in Aotearoa by 2025, which largely affects gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. Given 70% of new syphilis cases are also being seen in our communities, we knew we had some work to do increasing knowledge and testing to help keep them safer and bring those new diagnosis numbers down.”
The campaign focuses on creating a “clash of eras” by taking modern hook-up language and situations, and inserted a character out of time – someone in 16th century garb, looking to proposition partners.
In the dating app, Grindr, the campaign borrows from the vernacular of the medium, as men-out-of-time proposition users with lines like “Upeth to?” and “May I behold thine aubergine?”
As this campaign is aimed at helping LGBTIQ+ community members play safer, the talent was sourced from these communities. Working with models like drag queen and activist Medulla Oblongata, further added to the authenticity of the message.
The historic look was achieved in collaboration with the Pop-up Globe Theatre and stylist Lucy Jane Senior. Authentic period costumes were created for each model and Abi Taylor provided era-appropriate hair and make-up, including a bespoke wig made for Medulla in the style of Queen Elizabeth I.
Combine these meticulous details with the artful lighting and skill of photographer Ross Brown, and the result is portraits that look like they stepped out of a 16th-century painting, contrasted by undeniably modern backdrops.
“Syphilis is very dangerous and can eventually be fatal if left untreated, so we teamed up with FCB to raise awareness about this outbreak in a way that would get our communities’ attention,” added Power. “Syphilis can often be symptomless – so the main message is for people to get tested regularly.”
“Realistically, to really make sure we can leave syphilis transmissions in the past, we also need people to embrace safe sex. To further encourage this and keep playing safe front-of-mind, we’ve made thousands of condom wallets with safety messages like, ‘Cloak thy tallywacker’, ‘Wrappeth thy pecker’ and ‘Sheath thy wang’, to be distributed at venues, by order, and at community events.”
“To halt Syphilis in its tracks, we needed an engaging and thought-provoking campaign that our audience simply couldn’t ignore,” said Tony Clewett, chief creative officer at FCB. “I’m thrilled we’ve achieved it with a powerful message that was not only beautifully executed but brings a smile to your face. A big thanks to everyone who went above-and-beyond to make it happen.”