New York, NY — The producers of As Much As I Can, which just finished its run at NoHo’s Joe’s Pub, are the folks at ViiV Healthcare, a group venture formed by Pfizer, GSK and Shionogi, and they hope their play will help ameliorate the plight of people with HIV. Picking immersive theater as the optimal medium for promoting ViiV’s antiretroviral drugs wasn’t a linear process. The brand’s research and creative choices speak volumes about the importance of innovation, and the challenges of breaking though, in the contemporary health care landscape.

As Much As I Can is the product of a ViiV project, ACCELERATE!, which spent four years trying to understand the challenges of HIV care for gay black men in Jackson, Mississippi, and Baltimore, Maryland. ACCELERATE! was based on a critical notion that eludes many research projects: that the perspectives of those most impacted by a disease should be central to the design of any care or support efforts. ViiV’s findings may prove instructive going forward.

For example, messaging should consider that care is for everyone, not just for people who are HIV+. And accessible, individual benefits—like getting or staying healthy—should be focused on instead of intangible, global goals, like ending the disease, which don’t usually speak to people. Similarly, people should be offered care choices that are in line with their own ambitions and lifestyle preferences. All of these reflect a larger takeaway: that a single patient population should never be spoken to as a homogenous group.

These findings seemed too big, too essential, to convey in PowerPoint, and it was crucial to ViiV to present it in a way that would change the way people think. As one of ViiV’s creative partners, Sarah Hall, said, “We brought up a few men to New York who were connected to this research, and I really thought that no one’s going to understand this in a way that they need to be motivated to act if they just hear this in a passive way.”

Accordingly, ViiV created a group of “community captains,” whose job it was to collect detailed narratives from gay black men affected by the HIV crisis. These stories ultimately became the script for As Much As I Can, which is crafted to illuminate to audiences how everyone is connected to—and contributes to—large-scale health and societal issues. Immersive theater is a particularly powerful medium for this, according to Hall, because “You’re actively being engaged with the show and you’re reacting, and people are interacting with you. There’s often a very blurry line about whether the person next to you is an actor or somebody who’s watching.”

Why This Matters

People expect to see health care offerings as attuned to their individuality as any other targeted consumer effort. It’s increasingly important to distill customers’ unique perspectives, meet them where they are, and commit to their cause. 

Hall explains more about her mindset behind a project like As Much As I Can, saying, “I have a profound respect for the fact that we as advertisers…have completely cooped public space. So if we’re going to be in it, we need to do something of value. We need to always push to do something that improves the human condition.”

About the Author:

Ben helps spark innovative healthcare thinking as Associate Director of Innovation. Previously on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair, he brings experience in engaging, rigorous storytelling to the healthcare world. Ben’s goals are to move brands to rethink their roles, own their evolving narratives, and maintain vital and vigorous consumer relationships.