Us and them : loveLife, commercial brands and everyday life.
Delate, Richard Cecil.
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The issue of branding with regard to public health communication is the topic of this thesis. The case study investigated is that of the loveLife Lifestyle brand introduced to South Africa in 1999 by the US-based Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation. loveLife brought together the collective efforts of a consortium of NGOs concerned with adolescent reproductive health in South Africa with the primary objective of reducing the rate of new HIV infections, sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancy through promoting a healthy lifestyle approach using traditional commercial marketing techniques. This study draws upon the Circuit of Culture to explore the manner in which the meaning of the loveLife lifestyle brand discourse is constructed, produced, distributed and consumed through using a semiotic approach. To achieve this the study explores the meanings represented by loveLife through examining the images and texts from the television and radio programmes, outdoor media; print publications and public relations produced by loveLife. The manner in which these meanings were produced by loveLife as articulated in various policy documents. It explores how young people aged 12-17 from different socio-economic backgrounds consume and make meaning of the loveLife brand and use these in everyday life to express meaning about themselves in their social interaction and how carcereal networks of power comprising parents, religious groups and AIDS organizations have sought to regulate the meaning and social identities that arise from the representation of the brand. The study concludes that the representation of the loveLife lifestyle brand has given rise to a brand identity that positions adolescent sexuality as something that is cool and that everyone is engaged in. This representation has been the result of a deliberate brand strategy by loveLife that has sought to encourage more open discussions between parents and youth on issues relating to sex and sexuality. The unintentional consequence arising from this representation is that in their consumption of the meanings of loveLife, loveLife's interpersonal facilities are decoded by others in the community as being spaces that encourage sexual interaction by young people. Young people who attend these facilities are by implication decoded as being sexually active. This undermines the intention of the producers of creating spaces where young people can engage and interact in a variety of recreational activities including learning about sexual and reproductive health. An additional unintentional consequence of the representation is that stakeholders who exert power over young people such as parents and religious leaders have actively sought to regulate the meaning of the brand either through using formal channels of protest such as the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa or through preventing their youth from participating in loveLife's interpersonal programme. This study proposes that the quality of media messages be measured in relation to the meanings that consumers and those that interact with them decode. This includes exploring the social identities that these meanings give rise to and manner in which these find meaning through everyday interaction and the extent to which these meanings correlate with those intended by the producers of the message.