This was a joined up, integrated campaign with key deliverables, centred around a bold and innovative animation and user experience that really brought the campaign to life amongst key influencers. It clearly moved the issue of vaccines up the international agenda and delivered an exceptional return on investment, even changing the way their organisations are working. As well as potentially saving lives, the campaign has a lasting legacy and is continuing to bring in significant levels of funding.


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Brief and objectives:

Epidemics are among the greatest threats to life, our health and prosperity. Yet the SARS, Ebola and Zika crises exposed fundamental weaknesses in our ability to prevent and respond to epidemic diseases.

To address this, Wellcome – one of the world’s leading funders of medical research – alongside a range of governments and organisations including the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, established CEPI: the Coalition for Epidemics Preparedness Innovations.

To achieve its mission to ‘stop future epidemics by developing new vaccines’, CEPI needed a campaign that could get the issue to the top of the world’s agenda and gain support and investment from the world’s decision makers. But there would only be a small window to appeal to this elite audience during its official launch at Davos.


Rationale behind campaign, including research and planning:

We first conducted detailed research among key stakeholders to garner insight into the mind-set of the political elite, revealing:

  • Epidemic preparedness was ‘someone else’s problem’
  • A misunderstanding that vaccines could only be used reactively rather than to prevent
  • So many issues yet limited funds. Global appetite for change required.

Analysis of similar successful campaigns such as The Girl Effect or Malaria No More proved that a consumer campaign could give social currency to an initiative actually aimed at a small number of change-makers.

We set guiding principles:

  • Creative direction: Not about fear, but understanding and tapping into human emotions
  • Tone: Emotive. Thought provoking. Eye opening. Intelligent
  • Title: Literal vs. generic/ambiguous.

This led us to our campaign wrapper: Let’s #OutsmartEpidemics.

The concept centred on personifying epidemics as a defeatable threat, reflecting the great achievements of our past and showing a solution in collective effort.

It also explained our aims, made the urgency clear and used ‘Outsmart’ to underline R&D as critical to victory.


Strategy and tactics, including creativity and innovation:

Our strategy combined media and digital in a pincer movement. Media relations would set the agenda and give the campaign salience. Digital would give us global reach, longevity and control of message.

We prepared a host of content, from educative Twitter cards and infographics to our ‘hero’ content: a two-minute video that would be played to the attendees at Davos and seeded worldwide.

Animation was chosen to minimise preconceptions around epidemics and get across complex concepts. We based the film around the story of one little boy, Emile, who along with his family, perished in the Ebola outbreak. This hooked the audience into an emotive story before delivering the wider/literal CEPI messaging: that we’ve accomplished so much, but we’re yet to outsmart epidemics.

The digital tactics were complemented by a highly targeted international media relations campaign, focussed on the outlets most visible to the world’s decision-makers. News stories, features and op-eds explained the threat of epidemics, the need for new vaccines and the political and economic case for investing in CEPI.

For countries that were key targets for resource mobilisation, we selected specific media titles well-read by government officials (e.g. Globe & Mail, Canada), often writing bespoke bylines regarding their country’s importance in the initiative.

We also prioritised Carlos Moedas (EU Commissioner for Science & Research) and key ministers from Japan and Germany to join our Davos press conference to encourage financial commitment to the cause.

Finally, we recruited global health super-influencers, whose support would add gravitas to the campaign among the academic/global health community.

Targets were:

  • Garner fame globally, reaching 1m views for campaign film
  • Reach high-profile media read by elites (FT, WSJ, BBC etc.)
  • Credit donors/partners in majority (60%+) of editorial
  • Increase conversations about vaccine development and epidemics. Target: +25% related conversations for launch week. +50% on launch day
  • Build social licence. +5% FB page likes
  • Mobilise support from 10 global health super-influencers.


Implementation of tactics:

Given the impending Trump inauguration (20th), the campaign was designed to have maximum impact on the day of launch. In-depth briefings, interviews and two press conferences were conducted beforehand, with embargoed materials and influencers encouraged to post the campaign video as the news broke.

As well as organic spread, we built a bespoke social media-buying plan to accelerate sharing of our video, targeted at a specially constructed audience of 13m ‘global health interested’ (created using analysis of Facebook and Twitter profiles across 12 target countries).

We also directly targeted high-level elite attendees via # targeting and Twitter group targeting. The buying strategy was dynamic; with A/B testing throughout, allowing us to judge which channels and messages were performing best, and direct spend into the prime performing routes.


Measurement and evaluation:

Media relations:

  • 204 articles across 32 major territories, including international top-tier publications, business, health, science, philanthropy and tech trades. Key titles: BBC, FT, NY Times, Nikkei, Allgemeine
  • 90%+ coverage included partner mention
  • Top media outlets, such as Washington Post and Handlesblatt used provided graphics to emphasize need for pandemic preparedness and key messages uptake was very high Digital impact
  • 2 million views across Twitter/FB/YT. Healthy 13% of views were 90s+
  • +49% conversations around vaccines on week of activity and +89% on launch day (Brandwatch).

Social licence:

  • 2,218 additional FB page likes, +15% growth.

Influencer outreach:

  • 17 influential scientists/groups (e.g. Max Roser, Jon Foley and Mark Lynas) shared film with total following of 334,000.

KEY OUTCOME: Up the agenda. From subject 11/11 at Davos in 2016, Epidemics was 5/11 on ranking for 2017.

KEY OUTCOME: CEPI secured $150m of funding at Davos and the EC committed to put forward a further $200m for member state approval.


Budget and cost effectiveness:

Third City agency fee time – £27,500.
Software – £1,500.
Video production and translation – £20,000.
Social media budget – £25,000.
Op-ed ghost writing – £875.

All partners agreed the campaign was a success because it:

  • Facilitated fundraising by making decision-makers more focused on the subject
  • Made positive stakeholders more engaged and likely to give more
  • Made the fundraising a more enjoyable and exciting process
  • Made follow-ups and future activity more likely.

Wellcome made conservative estimate of campaign impact of +$50m fundraising.

Campaign ROI: $675 for every £1 invested.