This campaign used innovative content and communications to improve public health, by increasing the number of times 18-30 years olds would check if they were buying medical products from legitimate suppliers. It was an imaginative campaign which turned a potentially dry topic into something engaging and impactful. The judges were impressed by the reach, engagement and clear shift in behaviour the campaign achieved. This is a great example of best-practice which incorporated great stakeholder relations and clearly demonstrates what can be achieved in a short period of time, on a small budget and with a very small team.


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Winner entry:

Brief and objectives:

If you take a medicine, use a medical device or get vaccinated in the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will have helped ensure it’s safe and effective. In 2016, MHRA seized over 4.6 million fake medical products and closed 4,700 websites. The #FakeMeds campaign is an ongoing behaviour change campaign helping 18-30-year-olds avoid dangerous fake:

  • slimming pills
  • erectile dysfunction (ED) medication
  • testing kits for sexually transmitted infections (STI)

To do this, we increase the target audience’s use of online verification methods that confirm if a seller they are considering buying from is legitimate. We exceeded our objectives and saw the target audience check if they were buying from legitimate sellers.

Our objectives (September 2017 – April 2018) are:

  • Behaviour change: 15% increase in searches (32,444 a month) of the MHRA register of legitimate online sellers.
  • Communications: reach 25% of 18-30-year-olds (2,568,990)
    • 50% of campaign media coverage includes key messages
    • 65% of media coverage is favourable
    • engagement with campaign content, use of our key messages and hashtag rated within the top 5 of the social media topic area

Rationale behind campaign, including research and planning:

Independent research shows:

  • more than half of medicines bought online are fake – side effects can include strokes.
  • shoppers believe themselves to be “internet-savvy”, however 79% are unaware of the issue.
  • interrupting a purchasing journey could reduce the likelihood of the audience buying fake medical products. Therefore, encouraging the audience to check the register of legitimate sellers could reduce the public health impact of fake medical products.

This campaign phase focuses on a group of medical products and their segmented audiences:

  • STI kits (18-30-year-olds)
  • ED medication (18-30 year-old-men)
  • Slimming pills (18-30-year-old women) audience contain two sub-groups:
    • women who weren’t aware of the potential negative impacts and would reconsider buying when informed
    • women that were aware of some of the risks and continue to purchase, but may re-consider if fully informed of the potential personal impacts

Research to support the chosen topics and audience segmentation includes:

  • the number of fakes seized and their associated medical impacts
  • quantitative surveys to identify users of the products and their buying behaviour
  • qualitative research to identify the audience’s motivations and buying journey

We worked with relevant stakeholders including Slimming World (SW) to create content and signpost the audience to the campaign.

Strategy and tactics, including creativity and innovation:


Content and channel selection should reflect that the buying of fake medical products was happening online. Engage the target audience and create a clear campaign identity by:

  • using integrated, targeted communications
  • making side effects seem more immediate
  • establishing a clear brand and consistent messaging.


  • Create partnerships with relevant stakeholders to identify case-studies describing real-life side effects and the scale of the issue.
  • Introduce a branding agreement with partners to ensure consistent visual identity and messaging.
  • Create content to be used across a range of audience relevant channels and by relevant influencers.


  • Humorous animations created in-house to encourage audience identification with content.
  • Use video and animations in information packs, resulting in increased interview requests and use of content across media channels.
  • Introduce Instagram and targeted social media marketing to improve access to target audience, enabling engagement and information for evaluation.

Implementation of tactics:

We linked dodgy slimming pills and real-life side-effects to communication channels that reflected our target audience and their older influencers:

  • Main storyline in a prime-time TV show (BBC One’s Casualty – 4.09 million overnight viewers), radio coverage across 10+ stations (BBC Radio 1 etc.)
  • Magazine coverage (Reveal etc.), 60+ articles in print and online news (Mail Online, Guardian, BBC etc.)
  • Website coverage (Debrief), vloggers and social media marketing of animations. We linked STI kits activity to social trends including Valentine’s Day. In-house animations were created and supported by social media marketing. To engage older influencers of the target audience, we featured in ITV Tonight (January 2018), discussing the dangers of fakes. For ED users, we featured in a TV news-story and 1-2-1 interview via Facebook live with Sky News on the dangers of fakes (November 2017). Our expert showed the audience seized medical products and the unhygienic conditions in which they were found. Approaching Christmas 2017, we created 10 animations covering all campaign medical products and messaging. They featured favourite Christmas songs with a twist: “It’s beginning to look a lot like Syphilis” was supported by social media marketing.

Measurement and evaluation:

Objective 1:

Searches of the register of legitimate online sellers increased by 33,706 (16% increase), exceeding objectives by 1% or 1,262 searches a month.

Objective 2:

We reached 55% of our target audience (5,651,778 18-30-year-olds), exceeding objectives by an additional 30% (3,082,788)

Objective 2a:

61% of media coverage featured key messages, exceeding objectives by an additional 11%.

Objective 2b:

80% of content was favourable, 7% strongly so, exceeding the objectives by an additional 15%

Objective 2c:

Our social media stories on Twitter generated the most engagement, our hashtag and campaign key messages were the most used within the discussion of Fake Meds online. This exceeded the objectives by 5 places.

Online traffic identified checks of the online registry came from the campaign webpage, coverage or communications – demonstrating the campaign achieved behaviour change. Interest in
the campaign has snowballed – developing organic engagement and relationships with new relevant media sources, including BBC 3.

Budget and cost effectiveness:

Analytics shows the campaign effectively contacted its target audience and changed behaviours. The total cost of the campaign (September 17 – February 18) was within budget at £30,611.80:

  • £6,850 – social media marketing (30 November 2017 – 30 January 2018)
  • £23,761.80 – in-house hours for various grades based on hourly wage

This equates to:

  • 0.005p per target audience member reached
  • 0.45 per extra search of sellers’ registry

The societal cost of care for a stroke, one of the side effects of dodgy slimming pills, is £45,409 in the first 12 months plus £24,778 in subsequent years. When considering the £6,850 campaign costs we would need to prevent 1 person from buying dodgy diet pills and having a stroke to have saved £38,559 in the first year and £24,778 in subsequent years.