HIV/AIDS messages are often deliberately puzzling so as to increase the chance for them to be used as food for conversation. The South African health organisation ‘loveLife,’ for instance, uses messages that include complicated rhetorical expressions in their media campaigns, reasoning that those who find the messages puzzling and wonder about their meaning will be inclined to discuss the messages with their peers. In order to test the assumption that puzzlement about health messages is related to keenness to talk about these messages, structured interviews were held with 30 black learners, ages 15 to 19, from Limpopo Province, South Africa, about the messages of six HIV/AIDS posters and six HIV/AIDS radio advertisements from ‘loveLife’ or another South African health organisation. No support was found for the assumption that presenting a puzzling health message will contribute to engaging the recipients in discussion. The participants indicated that they were willing to discuss the themes addressed in either a poster or radio advertisement because they appreciated the message and felt that its content was relevant to them, rather than because the message was puzzling or difficult to understand. The participants’ overall actual comprehension of the messages, however, proved to be strikingly low.
Keywords: communication strategies; health behaviour; HIV prevention; mass media; public health; radio advertisements; rhetoric; youth
African Journal of AIDS Research 2010, 9(2): 175–185