In the 1980s, advertising campaigns released messages to the public to help raise awareness and stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. The United States still uses the same methods to spread information about the new virus through mass media, newsletters, and educational advertisements. The comparison between HIV/AIDS and coronavirus advertising shows similarities in fear, protection, stigma, and awareness.

Research by Bush et. al, 1989, suggests advertising is so powerful, repetitive and professionally established, it can influence our cultures beliefs and behavior in both a negative and positive way.

The beginning

During 1981, New York and California saw the first few cases of HIV/AIDS. According to Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), published on June 5, 1981 by Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC), hospitals treat five young gay men for Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. Two of the men died. During the same time frame, write Hughes and colleagues, New York reports a rare and aggressive cancer, Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS) among male homosexuals. Within days Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, report cases to the CDC consisting of PCP, KS and other immune system complications.

Research published in 2006 by Davis et al. explained how health organizations and doctors were unable to determine the epidemic of this infectious disease in New York and California. The new illness was initially labeled as “gay disease” until 1982, CDC uses the term AIDS “Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome."

Epidemic or Pandemic

Some authors refer to HIV/AIDS as a pandemic, because HIV/AIDS has affected many people and several countries. However, other authors, especially in the 1980’s use the term epidemic because it was the beginning of the virus. According to the 2020 fact sheet on global HIV and AIDS statistics in 2019, 38 million people worldwide were living with AIDS. In addition, 7 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2019, and 690,000 people died from AIDS-related illness.






Research by Davis et al. showed that individuals were afraid of people living with HIV / AIDS. Almost half ( 47%) said that anyone who had tested positive would be "avoided." Many Americans were worried about how the disease was transmitted, and sometimes uncertain about it.

Poster, "Some People Think You Can Catch AIDS from a glass." 1987, Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, UCSF Library.

Poster, “Some People Think You Can Catch AIDS from a Handshake,” 1985, Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, UCSF Library.

As many people can remember, the aisles in the grocery store became empty in March. Suddenly, there was no toilet paper, no pasta, and no hand sanitizer or other cleaning products. Indivduals panicked about the coronavirus, and fear had swept across the country. According to Keane and Neal, Government policies such as social distancing, lockdowns and travel restrictions, as well as growth in the Coronavirus cases, generated such behavior. Hence, organizations such as Amazon put out advertisements for toilet paper; then, people began to order toilet paper online. Charmin and other toilet paper brands announced their reluctance to work hard to make sure the toilet paper was on the shelf or brought to their door.

Charmin Advertisements, March 2020
Poster, "Lets Make It Safer to Play in L.A." 1985, Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, UCSF Library.

Many advertisements also advertised how to cleanse needles because other than homosexuality being a common denominator to HIV/AIDS, drug abusers were also a linked to HIV/AIDS. It was interesting to see how advertisements from San Francisco, New York, and other places in the United States provided solutions for cleaning needles, such as using bleach. Bleach was also a topic during the coronavirus outbreak. Similar to HIV/AIDS, people looked for answers or solutions to the virus. Some people misused bleach as a remedy for the coronavirus. This only shows how people were eager to find solutions to stop the spread.

Poster, "Bleach Man," 1988, Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, UCSF Library.

"Thank You For Not Riding | Uber" posted by Uber, April 2020.


Bush and colleagues explained how New York fought the media for a long time in the 1980s because its campaign recommended the use of condoms. The media rejected these advertisements because they might suggest encouraging unmarried partners to engage in sex.

Poster, "Don't Forget Your Rubbers," Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, UCSF Library.

Bush et al. 1989, invited AIDS coordinators and public information experts from the Department of Health of 48 states to participate in a study. The CDC recommended these individuals for being most knowledgeable about the AIDS media campaign. Bush et al. contacted the experts and obtained complete questionnaires. According to the study the experts seemed to be in agreement over condom use. The majority (94 percent) disagreed with the idea that promoting condoms as a defense against AIDS would NOT reduce the rate at which the infection is spreading. As well, they disagreed with the statement, “Promoting condom usage will encourage sexual activity.”

Poster, "Safe Sex ... Are You Man Enough?" ca. 1985,1997, Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, UCSF Library.

According to a profile of Dr. Anthony Fauci, he was was appointed Director of NIAID. Dr. Fauci briefed six presidents on HIV/AIDS and many other domestic and global health concerns. He was one of the key architects of the President's AIDS Relief Emergency Plan (PEPFAR), a program that saved millions of lives in the developing world.

Maurenn Callahan of the New York Post helped explain the similarities between masks, condoms and Dr. Fauci. As one of the few measures to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, Dr. Fauci advocated the use of condoms in the 1980s. He suggested to Americans that latex condoms provide a "strong liquid barrier" to prevent the spread of HIV. According to PBS News Hour, he recommended the use of masks as an intervention to prevent or slow down the spread of coronavirus. He said, "Americans should wear face masks as a way to help stifle the spread."

In May 2020, New York asked New Yorkers to help communicate why it is so important to wear a mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. New York collected 600 submissions from across the state as part of the, "Wear a Mask New York Ad Contest." 186,000 New Yorkers voted on the top 5 videos. New York used the 1st and 2nd place ads for public service announcements.

1st place ad We love NY- Bunny Lake Films

“We ❤ NY,” Bunny Lake Films, May 22, 2020

“You Have My Respect — New York,” The Ad Council, ca. March 2020


Research by Villa and others reported that historically, during a disease outbreak, people, and advertisements have always made a way to associate the disease with certain groups of people. Showing stigma, hatred, and discrimination. Tuberculosis, HIV, and leprosy are well-known infectious diseases that people have stigmatized in the past.

Villa et, al., also explained that since late January 2020, several countries/regions have carried out verbal and physical attacks on Chinese citizens or people of Asian descent. Especially, because sometimes, certain media, newspapers and political leaders use words that can lead to stigmatization. For example, several Italian newspapers in January 2020 used words "Chinese virus" and "Chinese syndrome", as though a nationality could be linked to a virus or disease. President Trump, of the United States has also identified the Coronavirus as "Chinese Virus." Although President Trump and others could be referring to it as "Chinese Virus" because China is where the virus originated, the words can still play a roll in the stigma towards many.

“Fight the Virus. Fight the Bias. / Love Has No Labels,” The Ad Council, July 21 2020

According to a July 2020 Ad Council press release, among the oppressed classes, Asian Americans are more likely to suffer mistreatment during the pandemic. Since the pandemic, as many as two-thirds of Asian adults have been victims of insults and jokes due to race or ethnicity.

Today, most Americans understand the basics of AIDS, that people with HIV can spread the disease by unprotected sex and the sharing of needles for the use of drugs, and that there are drugs that can prolong the lives of people living with HIV, but there is still stigma, discrimination and fear. As of 2006, one in five Americans (21%) said that working with someone with HIV / AIDS would be "extremely" or "somewhat" uncomfortable, and more than a third (39%) would be uncomfortable living with someone with HIV / AIDS (Davis et al., 2006).

Poster, "Its About Men of Color," Collection, Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, UCSF Library.

Advertisement, “AIDS: All Individuals Deserve Support,” 1986, Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, UCSF Library.


Comparable to Coronavirus, HIV/AIDS had a lot of misleading information spreading through the nation. Such as where HIV/AIDS came from or how to receive the virus. Many campaigns across the United States started to focus on getting the correct information out to the people. Similar to today people lived in fear because of the unknown or wrong facts about HIV/AIDS.

The Rumors TV campaign from 1986 to 1987 directly challenged the beliefs of many Americans and encouraged viewers to write to the Red Cross for more information (Davis et al., 2006).

Brochure, “Straight Talk About Sex and AIDS,” 1986, Courtsey of Archives and Special Collections, UCSF Library.

All quotes from Evolution of an Epidemic: 25 Years of HIV/AIDS Media Campaigns in the U.S.

Robert De Niro is incredulous that people still believe you can get AIDS from shaking hands or sharing telephones. He says, wagging his finger, that there has never been a single documented case of AIDS being spread through casual contact.

Meryl Streep talks about how rumors are almost always not true, such as the rumors about AIDS. She says many people think you can get the disease from swimming pools or a mosquito bite. They are wrong.

Elizabeth McGovern stresses that AIDS is sexually transmitted, so you have be aware and selective when it comes to sex. She says you’re sleeping with every person your partner has been with for the last 10 years.

Ahmad Rashad stresses that you can’t get AIDS from donating blood. When you give blood it is the first and the last time that needle was used, he says.

"Facts about AIDS," The Poughkeepsie, 1987

In an April 1987 letter to the editor of the Poughkeepsie Journal, Deborah L. May wrote how some people attributed HIV/AIDS to the wrath of God. Punishment for homosexuals; however, May defended HIV/AIDS-positive individuals by stating the facts. She said, "I ask those who perceive AIDS as God's judgment upon homosexuality behavior to consider the fact that lesbian sexual activity has not resulted in single case of AIDS in the world to date. According to the theology of AIDS as God's wrath, are we to logically conclude that God rewards female homosexuality activity as fully as celibacy and monogamy? This, of course, does not conveniently coincide with some people's moral values." She also mentions how blood and seman have very high concentration of HIV in an infected person, so when an infected person's body fluids come in contact with an uninfected person's bloodstream, that person is at high risk of becoming infected whether they are heterosexual, homosexual, black, white, Hispanic, male, or female.

"CNN 'First Facts' Coronavirus Promo,” posted by NewscastStudio, March 27, 2020

Today, CNN and many other organizations are working hard to help people become more aware of the coronavirus. Advertisements are trying to help stop or slow down the spread of the virus. It's important to know the facts of a virus, so we can respond appropriately. It was a process of learning about HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. Hence, as time goes by, this country will become more aware and more understanding of the facts about coronavirus, which will help in many ways. From the epidemics and pandemics before us, such as HIV/AIDS, we can learn how to respond or how to support each other.

Why does this matter?

Davis et al,. helps explain how advertising is so powerful and repetitive; it both negatively and positively affects the actions of our society. During the HIV / AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, advertising was an important topic because advertising campaigns were determined to warn people of the unknown disease and help correct misinformed information. The disease was new to people and they did not know what to do or what to expect, which led the nation to panic and fear. Coronavirus caused the same reaction; people did not know the truth about coronavirus during the beginning, which also led the nation to misconceptions and fear. Because advertising has and still affects us, it's important to have knowledge of the messages and the effect ads have. Therefore, advertising was and still is an efficient instrument to help raise awareness and prevent the spread of coronavirus.


Secondary Sources:

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., NIAID Director,https://www.niaid.nih.gov/about/director#:~:text=Dr.%20Fauci%20was%20appointed%20Director%20of%20NIAID%20in,as%20emerging%20diseases%20such%20as%20Ebola%20and%20Zika

CDC, “Pneumocystis Pneumonia -- Los Angeles,” MMWR, June 5, 1981 https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/lmrk077.htm

Wager, Richard, "Letters to the editor," The Poughkeepsie, April 11, 1987.

Hughes, Sally Smith,” The Kaposi's Sarcoma Clinic at the University of California, San Francisco: An Early Response to the AIDS Epidemic," Bulletin of the History of Medicine 71, no. 4 (1997): 651-88, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44445888.

Bush, Alan J., and Victoria Davies, “State Governments’ Response to the AIDS Crisis: An advertising Perspective,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, vol. 8, 1989, pp. 53-63. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30000312. Accessed 7 Oct. 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “First Report of AIDS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention”, June 01, 2001 https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5021a1.htm

Julia Davis, Benjamin Ryan, and Alexis Petronis, “Evolution of An Epidemic: 25 Years of HIV/AIDS Media Campaigns in the U.S.” Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, June 2006, https://www.kff.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/7515.pdf

UNAIDS, “Global HIV & AIDS statistics - 2020 fact sheet,” 2020, https://www.unaids.org/en/resources/fact-sheet

Laura Santhanam, Allison Thoet, and Judy Woodruff, “What Dr.Fauci wants you to know about face masks and staying home as virus spreads” PBS News Hour, Montana PBS, April 3, 2020, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/what-dr-fauci-wants-you-to-know-about-face-masks-and-staying-home-as-virus-spreads

Callahan Maureen, “Masks are the new condoms – and Americans need to get on board now!” New York Post, July 28, 2020, https://nypost.com/2020/07/28/america-needs-to-mask-up-like-we-did-with-condoms/

Simone Villa, et al., “Stigma at the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” accepted for publication in Clinical Microbiology and Infection, August 3, 2020. https://www.clinicalmicrobiologyandinfection.com/action/showPdf?pii=S1198-743X%2820%2930477-8.

Michael Keane and Timothy Neal, “Consumer panic in the COVID-19 pandemic,” Journal of Econometrics, August 25, 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7447232/

Holly Yan, “You asked, we’re answering: Your top coronavirus questions,” CNN, Updated November 19, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-questions-answers/

Primary Sources:

Poster, "Don't forget your rubbers," National Task Force on AIDS Prevention, UC San Francisco, Library, Special Collections, https://calisphere.org/item/66f750ce-ca73-4c70-8372-deb17ffefa72/

Advertisement, “It’s About Men of Color,” AIDS History Project Ephemera Collection, UC San Francisco, Library, Special Collections, https://calisphere.org/item/84dbab8f-ada3-423d-b709-cb8b2a89c7c4/

Poster, “Some People Think You Can Catch AIDS from a Handshake,” 1985, AIDS History Project Ephemera Collection, UC San Francisco, Library, Special Collections, https://calisphere.org/item/c404e264-c177-4fb4-ae8b-54ac247ad82d/

Poster, "Lets make it safer to play in L.A." 1985, UC San Francisco, Library, Special Collections, https://calisphere.org/item/324a33f1-2ecc-48b1-bd69-b8f92bd33273/

Poster, “Safe Sex … Are You Man Enough?” ca. 1985,1997, AIDS History Project Ephemera Collection, UC San Francisco, Library, Special Collections, https://calisphere.org/item/6a656093-c2cd-43ee-a031-54f4f9c31a35/

Brochure, “Straight Talk About Sex and AIDS,” 1986, AIDS History Project Ephemera Collection, https://calisphere.org/item/255fdfeb-8984-481c-a780-edc1857dac2c/

Advertisement, “AIDS: All Individuals Deserve Support,” 1986, AIDS History Project Ephemera Collection, UC San Francisco, Library, Special Collections, https://calisphere.org/item/31b5f279-4f3d-4d94-b4a9-718f4857ee9e/.

Deborah L. May, "Facts about AIDS," Poughkeepsie Journal, April 11, 1987.

Poster, "Some People Think You Can Catch AIDS from a glass." 1987, UC San Francisco, Library, Special Collections, https://calisphere.org/item/d5f3caf0-7407-49b9-bf09-8c6405f3ab73/

Poster, "Bleach Man," 1988, UC San Francisco, Library, Special Collections, ://calisphere.org/item/9ff9b763-0748-412d-b699-cb48a4abae94/

“You Have My Respect — New York,” The Ad Council, ca. March 2020, https://www.adcouncil.org/campaign/coronavirus-prevention.

"CNN 'First Facts' Coronavirus Promo,” posted by NewscastStudio, March 27, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVLcODg4elY.

“Thank You For Not Riding | Uber,” Posted by Uber, April 8, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_e8XLnMiCOE&feature=youtu.be

“Wear a Mask New York Ad Contest: Winner Announced,” New York State, May 19, 2020, https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/wear-mask-new-york-ad-contest-winner-announced.

“We ❤ NY,” Bunny Lake Films, May 22, 2020, https://youtu.be/-l2SRDL26q4.

“Fight the Virus. Fight the Bias. / Love Has No Labels,” The Ad Council, July 21 2020, https://youtu.be/5ocfEGYD_Xw.

Press Release, “API Individuals…Ad Council,” The Ad Council, July 21, 2020, https://www.adcouncil.org/learn-with-us/press-releases/love-has-no-labels-addresses-wave-of-racism-toward-the-asian-and-pacific-islander-communities-amid-covid-19-pandemic.


Created with images by ahundt - "new york sightseeing jam" • BruceEmmerling - "street stock city"