It’s Not Over: 5 Questions with MAC AIDS Fund on World AIDS Day

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Today is World AIDS Day 2014, and the hashtag #WAD2014 is leading the social conversation as brands, foundations, corporations and non-profits partner to address the HIV/AIDS issue on a global level. 

MAC Cosmetics is once again out in front, supporting the cause with their new efforts to raise HIV awareness among youth. To date, the brand has raised more than $340 million for AIDS awareness, much of it through the sale of its VIVA Glam lipstick and lipglass.

This year, the beauty brand hopes to particularly connect with the 12-24 demographic—the only age group worldwide where HIV rates are still rising—with the launch of the Andrew Jenks-directed documentary, It’s Not Over, which launches today on Netflix in support of World AIDS Day.

brandchannel chatted with Nancy Mahon, Global Executive Director of the MAC AIDS Fund, about the iconic brand that was founded in Canada 30 years ago by Frank Toskan and Frank Angelo. [more]

brandchannel: Nancy, what’s the status of the HIV/AIDS crisis this World AIDS Day?

Mahon: Globally, we still have 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS, but we’ve made great strides in the last decade. In 2011, there were 700,000 fewer infections than in 2001. We’ve also seen tremendous success with treatment access—something many felt was impossible in developing countries only a decade ago.

Today, we have over 8 million people around the world receiving HIV treatment. But, we still have a long way to go if we want to end the epidemic in our lifetimes. Over 60% of those who need treatment still do not have access, and we continue to see rising HIV rates and unequal access to treatment among the most vulnerable populations including men who have sex with men and young people.

bc: How has MAC’s AIDS commitment evolved in tandem with the evolution of the brand?  

Mahon: The VIVA Glam campaign is a core part of MAC’s DNA. The campaign was founded by the original founders (Toskan and Angelo) and employees of the company. It was a genuine, heartfelt response to a crisis that was ravaging the fashion industry at the time.  

Over the last twenty years, our commitment as a company has only grown as has the success of the campaign. Last year, we donated $38 million to HIV/AIDS programs around the world, making us the largest corporate donor for HIV programs and the second-largest private donor behind only the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The MAC AIDS Fund was established in 1994 to support men, women and children affected by HIV/AIDS globally. All proceeds from MAC’s VIVA GLAM Lipstick and Lipglass have gone to the fight.

bc: What are some of the ways in which MAC is reinvigorating its efforts to spread HIV/AIDS awareness?

Mahon: This year we partnered with Andrew Jenks on It’s Not Over, a film about young people affected by HIV/AIDS from around the world, available on Netflix now. 

We needed a new approach, particularly to reach young people—a group that remains at great risk but has become complacent. We approached Jenks because of his track record for making content that connects with a younger generation.

bc: Why invest in content marketing with this documentary, and how are you leveraging it to put a face on HIV/AIDS?

Mahon: MAC has always been committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS, but we felt it was important to use our loud voice and take bold action to make HIV relevant again. This film is our way of doing that. As a company, we are using the strong voice of our brand and of our spokespeople to raise awareness of the film, and also boosting that with our collective social media properties.

bc: How has MAC Viva Glam consistently engaged powerful ambassadors, including current spokespersons Rihanna and Miley Cyrus?

Mahon: MAC has always been outspoken and bold. Our first spokesperson was Ru Paul! We look for spokespeople who personify those same qualities. We want our spokespeople to be genuine, real, outspoken, bold and committed to the cause. Both Rihanna and Miley exemplify those qualities. 

Some of our past VIVA Glam campaigns have featured Elton John, Lil Kim, Missy Elliott, Ricky Martin, Cyndi Lauper, Lady Gaga, Boy George and Nicki Minaj—all trailblazers in their own right. Both through the strength of our brand as well as through our celebrity spokespersons, we’ve been able to reach young people—who just listen to rock stars in a way they don’t always listen to their doctors or parents.

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