‘Dangerous’: Global PR Giant Launches Provocative HPV Vaccine Ads Targeting Gen Zers

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by Brenda Baletti, Ph.D., Childrens Health Defense:

Publicis Groupe, a multinational public relations firm, last week launched a provocative advertising campaign — under the slogan “HPV Fucks Everybody” — designed to persuade Gen Zers to get the human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccine. Critics called the campaign “dangerous.”

A multinational public relations firm last week launched a provocative advertising campaign — under the slogan “HPV Fucks Everybody” — designed to persuade Gen Zers to get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

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The PR firm, Publicis Groupe, launched the campaign in collaboration with the nonprofit Fuck Cancer. The campaign doesn’t name a specific HPV vaccine brand name. However, Merck’s Gardasil vaccine is the only HPV vaccine brand distributed in the U.S., and Merck is a client of Publicis Groupe.

When asked if Merck was funding the campaign, a spokesperson for Fuck Cancer told The Defender, “This campaign has no connection with Merck and is a collaboration between Publicis Health Media and Fuck Cancer (a non profit). Please note that we are promoting a vaccine that is safe and saves lives.”

There are currently 80 cases pending in federal court against Merck alleging Gardasil caused injuries and the federal Vaccine Court has paid out more than $70 million to people making claims regarding Gardasil.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), also a Publicis client, developed the HPV vaccine technology, which it licenses, in the U.S., exclusively to Merck.

In addition to Merck and the NIH, other Publicis Groupe clients include the World Economic Forum (WEF), pharmaceutical giants including Pfizer, GSK, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma and several pharmacy chains that administer the HPV vaccines, including Walmart, Rite Aid and CVS Health (owners of Target pharmacies and clinics).

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Campaign ‘uses sex to sell its case’

The new campaign targets young adults directly through a series of ads featuring “diverse, sexy images” and edgy music, accompanying the message that it doesn’t matter who you are, you are at risk because “HPV Fucks Everybody.”

Photos of a black couple, a white couple and a furry couple kissing, and a multiracial group of young people partying are featured on the website and will be featured in the ads.

The images are accompanied by lines like, “Stop the spread. Get the shot. Keep doing you,” according to “Pharma & Health Insider” — a PR site that publishes promotional stories with a news-like appearance.

HPV transmission is likely to occur via sex, the PR story said, so the campaign “uses sex to sell its case.”

“Targeting all 18–26-year-olds who are sexually active (or who want to be), the campaign behaves just like its audience: honest, bold and unbounded by tradition,” said Alison McConnell, chief marketing officer at Publicis Health Media — one of Publicis’ “solution hubs.”

Michelle Stiles, author of “One Idea To Rule Them All: Reverse Engineering American Propaganda,” told The Defender that campaigns run by elite global PR firms may appear absurd to a skeptical observer, but they have tremendous power to shape global public health agendas.

She said:

“The trendy and provocative messaging targeting sexually active youth for yet another vaccination campaign should hopefully be met with ample amounts of skepticism or outright laughter for those who paid attention during the previous rollout of the COVID-19 shots.

“Unfortunately, these million-dollar campaigns are extremely dangerous because they are so effective.”

Ben Mallory, executive vice president/creative director for Digitas Healthanother Publicis subsidiary collaborating on the campaign, said the campaign is designed to inform young people that they will be infected with HPV, that such infection will be risky and that vaccination is the answer.

“For a generation that doesn’t discriminate, it’s important they realize that HPV doesn’t either,” he said. “That’s what the campaign communications [sic]: It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re into, if you’re not vaccinated, you’re at risk.”

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