Grim Reaper (advertisement)

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Grim Reaper commercial
Grim reaper advertisement.jpg
A screenshot from the commercial depicting the Grim Reaper
ClientNational Advisory Committee on AIDS (NACAIDS)
Release date(s)5 April 1987
CountryAustralia Australia

The Grim Reaper commercial is a 1987 Australian television commercial aimed at raising public awareness on the dangers of AIDS. Created as part of a $3 million[1] education campaign by the National Advisory Committee on AIDS (NACAIDS), the advertisement depicted the Grim Reaper bowling in a bowling alley and knocking over men, women, and child "pins" which represented AIDS victims. The commercial first screened on 5 April 1987[2] and was highly controversial, one reason being that the Grim Reaper became identified with gay men.[3] Nevertheless, the commercial was regarded as highly successful in educating the Australian public about the issue. The commercial was created by Siimon Reynolds and spoken by voice-over artist John Stanton.[4]


Siimon Reynolds on the idea of the commercial:[5]

...bowling was in my head. I was bowling every week. And I used to love the animation at Christmas with... for Scrooge, where the Grim Reaper came and visited Scrooge. And I thought, "Well, maybe the Grim Reaper could machine-gun them." Then I thought, no, that'll be a five-second ad and it'll be too short. What's another way he could kill them? He could bowl balls at them. And those two things came together.

Of course, back then, the data was unclear. In some countries - for instance, Italy - almost as many women who had AIDS as men. I think there was also a bit of a political fear that there'll be a backlash against gays if everybody thinks it's some kind of gay plague. But, you know, other countries had failed in their AIDS education because heterosexuals weren't listening. We really had to wake people up. There was a lot of information about how to stop AIDS out there, but no-one was reading it.


The commercial became controversial for offending some members of the gay community. Australian AIDS pioneer Ron Penny regretted the fact this occurred:[3]

The downside was that the Grim Reaper became identified with gay men rather than as the Reaper. That was what we had unintentionally produced - [the belief] by some that the Reaper was people with HIV infection, rather than the Reaper harvesting the dead.

I think there's never been anything on television or any media that has ever matched it in terms of impact, but no advertising can be without some downside, and that was never intended. But it at least made people aware and probably did change sexual practices of heterosexuals.


  1. ^ "Aids Photo Library: Grim Reaper". Avert. Retrieved 2008-11-09.
  2. ^ "The Grim Reaper from AIDS ads". ABC. 2007-10-23. Retrieved 2008-11-09.
  3. ^ a b "Pioneer Regrets "Grim Reaper" Demonization of Gay Men". The Body. 2002-10-03. Retrieved 2008-11-09.
  4. ^ "New 'Grim Reaper' ad targets gay Aussies". Gay NZ. 2008-01-10. Retrieved 2013-10-03.
  5. ^ "Talking Heads - Siimon Reynolds". ABC. 2008-09-22. Retrieved 2008-11-09.

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