Thursday, November 09, 2006

A local health-industry advertising firm's latest venture is educating the public on chronic diseases

Publication: Irvine World News;  Date: Nov. 9, 2006;  Section: Business;  Page: 15

http://epaper.ocregister.com/Default/Client.asp?enter=true&skin=OCW&Daily=OCWIrvineWorldNews&AW=1163098394328
 
‘Purpose-driven’ company

A local health-industry advertising firm’s latest venture is educating the public on chronic diseases.

BY YOLANDA SANCHEZ IRVINE WORLD NEWS 


    When Ignite Health launched its latest venture, the company wasn’t looking to promote a health care product or company. Instead, its focus was on educating the public.

    The health care advertising agency in September unveiled Incendia Health Studios, a media company that develops and distributes disease education content but does not promote specific products or service.

    One of the company’s debut projects – “Live With It” – is a series of five short animations that follows the lives of fictional characters learning to deal with the fact that they are HIVpositive. The company has just introduced the third episode in the series.

    Each character and their story are representative of major audiences in the United States, said Fabio Gratton, president of Incendia Health Studios . He’s a former Hollywood screenwriter.

    Told in three- to five-minute stories, the series also engages readers by featuring a message board where visitors can talk about their own stories, provide words of encouragement to others living with HIV or post their thoughts on the series.

    “I’m not trying to entertain per se, I’m trying to captivate someone for a brief enough time to cause them to reflect,” Gratton said.

    The company touts itself as the first “purpose-driven” media company devoted to chronic disease education, including HIV, cancer, hepatitis B and diabetes.

    Incendia Health is equipped with a full in-house production team, including producers, animators, Web site copyeditor and copywriter to create each project.

    Creating each episode takes months, but everyone who works on the project takes a vested interest in its success.

    “The team takes pride in it because you own it. It’s something different from what we have to do to make money,” said Pat Macke, Web site and campaign copywriter.

    Macke and others on the team continue working on advertising campaigns commissioned by their clients, but they created “Live With It” directly for the public.

    Incendia’s projects are funded by advertising, sponsorships, grants and some of the company’s own investments. The projects are currently not money makers for the company, but it does hope to eventually make a profit through its corporate sponsorship, said executive producer Jeff Rohwer. He adds that this is not the primary motivation for the projects.

    It takes 30 to 40 people to make each series a reality. Once the team develops the script it is up to Lawrence Jackson, animator and animation consultant, to create the images.

    “I see my job as serving the script. The challenge is making the script come to life,” Jackson said. He has worked on all three episodes but spent a little over three months putting episode two together on his own.

    Jackson begins by creating a storyboard of characters and events, taking inspiration from pictures and acquaintances. He draws all of the major points in the story and then transfers then into a flash program for the Internet.

    The “Live With It” Web site has already received more than 30,000 views from people in more than 150 countries, Gratton said.

    And now the company is looking to take its message further.

    Incendia Heatlth was recently contacted by the University of Washington, which has received a grant to work in Kenya to study and develop sex education.

    The company is working on a comic book that will be translated into Swahili and sent to Kenya. The story focuses on two characters, one who was recently diagnosed with HIV and one that is living with HIV. The comic book also addresses issues that are prevalent in Kenya, such as the belief that prayer can heal HIV, Rohwer said.

    “We want to make sure that the message gets out on a level playing field and that it gets out to people that don’t have the technology to watch it online,” said producer Shane Brouse.

    But, the company is primarily focusing on the Internet for distribution.

    “The Internet is a great vehicle when you are targeting specific groups,” Gratton said. “I wanted to build a community and you can not do that with TV.”

    The series can also be viewed through other engines such as Google and YouTube. They are available to download as podcasts and can be viewed on HIV-related Web sites such as thebody.com and aegis.org.

    “Live With It” offers “an empathetic viewpoint that is both inspirational and a raw, real education about HIV/ AIDS,” stated Vanessa Robinson, assistant operations director for The AIDS Education Global Information System.

    To “create a 360 degree experience” the company also created Myspace pages for each of the series’ fictional characters.

    The Myspace pages are checked by executive producer Rohwer who says he receives messages from people that range from asking if they should be tested to those commenting on the characters’ personal lives. But Rohwer says he does not respond to any personal messages.

    Incendia Health has already received many awards, including the Most Innovative Site award at the 2005 World Wide Web Health Awards. The company continues working on other projects and has also launched websites focused on diabetes, hepatitis and breast cancer.
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