MSD Gardasil: Stronger Than Cancer Stories
Awareness Campaign for Cervical Cancer
An estimated 6,670 women in the Philippines are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. It’s one of the most prevalent forms of cancer in the country, but also one of the most preventable and treatable.
This widespread disease is commonly caused by HPV, a sexually transmitted infection. In the Philippines, not a lot of people were aware of this fact. Based on M2.0’s casual conversations with patients at the start of the campaign, many had assumed that cervical cancer is inherited genetically.
Cervical cancer was overshadowed by more known forms; breast cancer has the iconic pink ribbon and photos of lung cancer are seen on cigarette boxes.
MSD's Gardasil was an FDA and BFAD-approved vaccine for HPV that suffered from this lack of awareness and relevance. Thus, the pharmaceutical company needed a campaign to educate people about the illness and spread awareness for the drug.
But in the Philippines, it wasn’t that simple--STD’s were a sensitive subject in a devoutly Catholic society.
Public and women's health advocates have been struggling to spread awareness for the longest time, but it remained a topic too taboo to fully tackle. The Filipinos’ conservativeness was a major hurdle in making the issue relevant.
To make matters worse, those who were aware of HPV only knew of one cure: the competing vaccine brand, which had TV spots on major networks and was endorsed by big celebrities like Kris Aquino and mother-daughter tandem Pia and Maxine Magalona.
M2.0 was tasked with a perplexing challenge: to shape the perception of a misinformed, hard-to-convince audience and ultimately overtake Gardasil’s well-established competitor.
The team could have easily surrounded the general public with ads and informational collaterals. But looking at the situation, they understood this approach was unnecessarily costly and would be lost in the multitude of marketing initiatives other pharmas were pushing out.
Instead, the agency had to pull Filipinos out of their shell and get them to discuss a real issue that affected them and their loved ones. As men play a role in HPV infection, the team needed an inclusive effort that would involve them as well.
M2.0 planned not just to educate people about HPV and cervical cancer, but to spark an interesting conversation for both sexes--a tall task that could only be achieved through compelling headlines and meaningful storytelling.
The overall campaign was divided into three phases to focus the attention on equally important stories. The goal was to alert the public on the dangers and prevalence of cervical cancer and tackle HPV’s sensitive sexual aspect.
Ready to shape the public’s perception about the disease and change lives for the better, the agency sprung into action. The team began seeding the media with hard-hitting stories that fearlessly addressed the issue.
To reverse the blind-eye attitude towards HPV and bring cervical cancer to the spotlight, M2.0 crafted headlines that were designed to grab attention, answer rising questions, and pique the interests of the Filipino people. They talked about what other drug brands wouldn’t dare mention; articles like “Too Much Sex in the City” were wake-up calls in a culture avoidant of sexual subject matters.
Education was key to the campaign’s success, and Gardasil needed an ambassador who the target market would genuinely listen to. With this in mind, the team collaborated with a role model men idolized and women admired: Chris Tiu. His voice became an integral part in driving MSD’s “Help Fight HPV” advocacy.
Riding the momentum, the agency went beyond telling thought-provoking stories. M2.0 highlighted MSD’s partnership with the most relevant government arm: the Department of Health (DOH). The collaboration became a platform for DOH to share its expertise and bring the discussion to a national level, protecting Filipino women in both key cities and far-flung provinces. Through the partnership, the company’s stories would not only be compelling--they would be credible.
The Gardasil campaign was a large success, with various stories being picked up by major newspapers and TV stations, who now found HPV relevant and threatening to the public. This was a crucial development as they were the key to bringing the disease front and center for the welfare of Filipinos.
M2.0 was able to produce Php 82.6 million worth of media value for the two-year campaign--four times the budget provided.
Most importantly, MSD’s stories sparked fruitful conversations; more and more people understood the issue and talked to their doctors and peers about HPV and the possibility of vaccination.
In the end, the agency finally brought to light a national issue that was under the radar for far too long. Through meaningful storytelling, both M2.0 and MSD were able to save countless of lives--and many more throughout the years.