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Why Australia needs another Grim Reaper-style shock television advertising campaign to beat COVID-19

The creator of Australia’s most controversial television commercial says the government needs to shock citizens into taking COVID-19 seriously with a message like his ‘Grim Reaper’ AIDS awareness campaign.

Siimon Reynolds was responsible for a 1987 public health advertisement which depicted the Grim Reaper in a bowling alley knocking down human ‘pins’ representing AIDS victims.

The advertisement was criticised by some who saw the Grim Reaper as symbolising gay men rather than the HIV virus but it was credited with educating the public about the broader threat of AIDS. 

The federal government television advertisements about COVID-19 are bland by comparison, when Mr Reynolds believes they should feel like a ‘slap in the face’. 

‘You have to be blunt, simple and dramatic if you want to change Australians’ minds and hearts about COVID-19,’ Mr Reynolds told Daily Mail Australia.

Siimon Reynolds, creator of the 1987 'Grim Reaper' commercial about the dangers of AIDS, says the federal government needs to adopt similar tactics to raise awareness of how to combat coronavirus

Siimon Reynolds, creator of the 1987 ‘Grim Reaper’ commercial about the dangers of AIDS, says the federal government needs to adopt similar tactics to raise awareness of how to combat coronavirus

In the Grim Reaper AIDS awareness television commercial men, women, and children were portrayed as human pins lined up to be struck down by a giant bowling ball

In the Grim Reaper AIDS awareness television commercial men, women, and children were portrayed as human pins lined up to be struck down by a giant bowling ball

The Australian Government's commercials about fighting coronavirus feature cartoon figures practising good hygiene and social distance. They are certainly not going to shock anyone

The Australian Government’s commercials about fighting coronavirus feature cartoon figures practising good hygiene and social distance. They are certainly not going to shock anyone

‘We must hammer home the key messages again and again, and paid media advertising is the most effective way of doing that.

‘There should be a major ad campaign in digital media, online, newspapers, radio and TV – every single day.’

Most of the official information the Australian public is receiving about coronavirus comes from long, sometimes confusing press conferences staged by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the leaders of states and territories.

The messages are not being heard or are being ignored by large segments of the community, as seen by mass gatherings of beachgoers at Bondi last week. 

‘The only way a whole country can get the message is through short, sharp ads,’ Mr Reynolds said. ‘Not long press conferences and press releases.’

‘Many people, particularly younger Australians, are not even seeing the government press announcements. It’s not enough. 

‘They need to be woken up with a slap in the face that only powerful advertising can do.’ 

A $30million advertising campaign was launched after concerns the public was receiving limited or confusing COVID-19 information but the commercials contain no memorable messages or imagery. 

A row of Grim Reapers lines up along bowling alleys ready to kill AIDS victims with giant balls. In the Siimon Reynolds TV commercial men, women and children were killed indiscriminately

A row of Grim Reapers lines up along bowling alleys ready to kill AIDS victims with giant balls. In the Siimon Reynolds TV commercial men, women and children were killed indiscriminately

'To help stop the spread of viruses like the flu or coronavirus, good hygiene is essential,' says the voiceover in a government COVID-19 television advertistement

‘To help stop the spread of viruses like the flu or coronavirus, good hygiene is essential,’ says the voiceover in a government COVID-19 television advertistement

They use simple graphics to calmly describe the importance of social distancing, good hygiene and self-isolation for those likely to have come into contact with thedisease. 

One advertisement has a voice talking over cartoon figures coughing into their elbow, sneezing into a tissue and washing their hands.

GRIM REAPER SCRIPT 

‘At first, only gays and IV drug users were being killed by AIDS. But now we know every one of us could be devastated by it. 

The fact is, over 50,000 men, women and children now carry the AIDS virus – that in three years, nearly 2,000 of us will be dead.

But if not stopped, it could kill more Australians than World War II.’

But AIDS can be stopped, and you can help stop it. If you have sex, have just one safe partner – or always use condoms. Always.’ 

A message then appears across the screen: ‘AIDS. PREVENTION IS THE ONLY CURE WE’VE GOT.’

‘To help stop the spread of viruses like the flu or coronavirus, good hygiene is essential,’ a warm female voice says. 

‘That starts with washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water whenever you cough, sneeze or blow your nose, prepare food or eat, care for someone sick, touch your face or use the toilet. 

‘Remember to cough or sneeze into your arm or a tissue, bin the tissue and wash your hands. Together we can help stop the spread and stay healthy.’

Mr Reynolds, a multi-award winning marketing expert and business coach, said these messages had to be presented in a more dramatic way.

‘There are two key points the marketing has to get across,’ he said. ‘Firstly, that everyone is in danger, not just older people. For this we need emotional TV and radio, and digital media.’ 

‘Secondly, we need to distribute a set of clear rules for how people should behave. 

‘Not small snippets of information here and there, but a clear set of rules any Australian is virtually forced to read because they are seeing the ads and videos everywhere.’

Lifeless bodies are strewn over a bowling alley after being knocked down by the Grim Reaper in the controversial television commercial created by Siimon Reynolds

Lifeless bodies are strewn over a bowling alley after being knocked down by the Grim Reaper in the controversial television commercial created by Siimon Reynolds

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the COVID-19 protection measures are already being widely disseminated in television commercials like this

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the COVID-19 protection measures are already being widely disseminated in television commercials like this

The federal government has begun sending text messages to mobile phone users. 'To stop the spread, stay 1.5m from others, follow rules on social gathers, wash hands, stay home if sick'

The federal government has begun sending text messages to mobile phone users. ‘To stop the spread, stay 1.5m from others, follow rules on social gathers, wash hands, stay home if sick’

Mr Reynolds has previously admitted his AIDS campaign, which was shot for just $300,000 and ‘broke a lot of rules’, was controversial but said it succeeded. 

He likened the current awareness of coronavirus to that of HIV in the mid-1980s, when there was a perception the only people vulnerable to that virus were gay men and intravenous drug users.

‘It is similar to the original AIDS situation because a section of the population are not taking coronavirus seriously, and others aren’t sure how to protect themselves from it,’ he said. 

Government advertisements have appeared nationally since earlier this month across television, radio, social media, newspapers and billboards. 

The television commercials ends with: ‘Visit health.gov.au.’ Text messages are now being sent by government with a link to aus.gov.au.

Mr Reynolds said the population should be directed to one designated official COVID-19 website with a crystal-clear message drummed in over and over again. 

‘We need dramatic ads that send people to a single website with all the rules people need to follow, set out in a super-clear way,’ he said.

‘Everybody should know this website, it should be drilled into their minds constantly to visit it. 

'At first, only gays and IV drug users were being killed by AIDS,' said actor John Stanton in the Grim Reaper commercial. 'But now we know every one of us could be devastated by it'

‘At first, only gays and IV drug users were being killed by AIDS,’ said actor John Stanton in the Grim Reaper commercial. ‘But now we know every one of us could be devastated by it’ 

‘There also needs to be a specific series of powerful ads purely focusing on the importance of staying away from other people. 

‘If you could focus on that one thing it would make a huge difference to how many Australians get the virus.’

Siimon Reynolds created the 1987 'Grim Reaper' AIDS awareness TV commercial

Siimon Reynolds created the 1987 ‘Grim Reaper’ AIDS awareness TV commercial

Mr Reynolds said it was vital the community received its information from one source, selling the same message, every day. 

‘If we rely solely on ever changing daily government messages the confusion and misinformation will remain,’ he said. 

‘We need to get above that and hammer home one to three key messages through advertising again and again. 

‘Then do longer videos and a website outlining clear lifestyle rules to follow.’

Mr Reynolds noted Mr Morrison’s background in tourism and marketing.

‘Scott Morrison understands mass marketing extremely well. It was his previous career, he is hugely experienced at it. 

‘He needs to think and act much more like an ad agency than a government if he wants to truly get the message across.’

Mr Morrison was asked on Tuesday night what the government was doing to ensure the ever-changing coronavirus situation was explained clearly to all Australians. 

He responded that everyone, including the government and media, had a responsibility to spread the message of how to contain COVID-19. 

A terrified young mother cradles her baby as a bowling ball is about to strike them both to death. Siimon Reynolds believes Australians need to a 'slap in the face' over COVID-19

A terrified young mother cradles her baby as a bowling ball is about to strike them both to death. Siimon Reynolds believes Australians need to a ‘slap in the face’ over COVID-19

A mother cradles a child as they both face imminent death at the Grim Reaper's hands

A  victims attempts to shield herself as the Grim Reaper knocks her to death with a bowling ball

Victims appear terrified as they wait for the Grim Reaper to knock them to death with bowling balls is Australia’s most controversial public health advertising campaign

‘And our public information campaign continues to grade up every single day,’ Mr Morrison. ‘It’s on bus shelters. People are still catching buses and walking down the street. 

‘It’s on social media. The official messages that are being put out need to be shared amongst your friends and that will continue.

‘The public advertising, whether it’s on television or radio or the many other means of communication, it is all being deployed and it is all being increased. 

‘I mean, it’s hard to avoid when you look at the Centrelink queues and not understand that something very serious is going on. 

‘So I would encourage Australians to seek out that information from the trusted sources.’

Mr Reynolds describes himself on his website as one of the world’s leading high performance coaches for CEOs and entrepreneurs.

Grim: ‘At first, only gays and IV drug users were being killed by AIDS’ 

The controversial 'Grim Reaper' controversial campaign was axed after nine weeks

The controversial ‘Grim Reaper’ controversial campaign was axed after nine weeks

The Grim Reaper advertisement created by Siimon Reynolds was part of a $3million National Advisory Committee on AIDS education campaign and first screened on April 5, 1987.

The ad opens with a bell tolling as ten men, women and children are lined up as ‘human pins’ at a bowling alley, waiting to be knocked to their deaths by a Grim Reaper armed with a giant bowling ball.

‘At first, only gays and IV drug users were being killed by AIDS,’ actor John Stanton intones darkly in a voiceover.

‘But now we know every one of us could be devastated by it. The fact is, over 50,000 men, women and children now carry the AIDS virus – that in three years, nearly 2,000 of us will be dead.

‘But if not stopped, it could kill more Australians than World War II.’

The first 10 supposed AIDS carriers are all killed and the Grim Reaper turns a scythe in his hand.

He then lines up to bowl again after the dead bodies have been cleared away and a second group of victims is set down.

After that bowl a mother is left standing holding an infant child. A third bowl knocks down the mother and the child spins through the air as the Reaper raises his left arm in triumph.  

The camera then pans across to show an entire row of Grim Reapers killing people, each sending a ball down his own bowling alley. 

‘But AIDS can be stopped, and you can help stop it. If you have sex, have just one safe partner – or always use condoms. Always.’ the commercial ends.

A message then appears across the screen: ‘AIDS. PREVENTION IS THE ONLY CURE WE’VE GOT.’

The campaign, which was scheduled to run across national televisions for three months, was axed after nine weeks.

 

 

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