Matthew Dickinson

What Makes a Great Disease Awareness Campaign?

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by Matthew | 08 Mar Read Time7 min

Matthew Dickinson, Managing Director of Dice, is an Economics graduate of Melbourne University, and entered the world of consumer advertising in Australia - working for global agencies DDB and Ogilvy. His experience drives Dice to deliver the best possible work for clients.


We’re delighted to be sponsoring a category at this year’s PM Awards: Disease Awareness (HCPs). Having successfully tackled the creative challenges involved with many disease awareness campaigns over the last few years – particularly in the field of rare diseases – experience tells us what can drive attention and therefore create better patient outcomes.

So, in our view, what does a great awareness campaign look like? What should you have top of mind from the outset, and how do all these elements come together to create an effective strategy? The below points are by no means an exhaustive list, but a good guide to get started.

5 key points to consider in an effective awareness campaign

1. Understand the purpose behind what you’re doing

An awareness campaign exists to shine light on and spread knowledge about a rare disease, or to reveal a previously overlooked or misunderstood aspect of a recognised condition or therapy area. When aimed at HCPs, rather than the public (as is the case with our award), the aim of this type of campaign is usually to pave the way for a new or relaunched treatment and to perhaps frame the brand as the treatment of choice, answering the needs of the patients.

In this way, a disease awareness campaign is not just about making HCPs more aware of the disease in question. It’s also about what they can try to do to treat it. 

Disease awareness campaigns also serve an important secondary purpose: to destigmatise a disease or dispel misconceptions around it. By removing perceived or psychological barriers around the condition, we open people’s minds to new possibilities for treatment and create greater opportunities for patients to enjoy positive outcomes.

2. Put patients at the heart of everything

Continuing from the last point above, your aim with an awareness campaign will always be to drive positive patient outcomes. 

In order to create an effective campaign that really speaks to the hearts and minds of HCPs, you need to perform in-depth research into the people they are dealing with face-to-face on a daily basis: their patients. 

Be empathetic. Imagine yourself in their shoes and pay attention to their stories (either through direct testimony or any accounts online). Find out what the disease can mean to patients. Gain a tangible understanding of the experience of living with the disease and the implications patients (and their families) will be facing, both short and long term.

Then think about the difference it would make if a clinician could easily identify a rare disease. How could they recognise it, diagnose it and then act quickly to treat it, thereby saving the patient from further debilitating effects? All this will serve to place the patient at the heart of the story, and help you paint the HCP as the guide or mentor in their journey back to health.

3. Be creatively engaging

Raising awareness entails getting people’s attention in the first place and serving them with material that will perhaps surprise but will certainly need to be memorable. To arouse an HCP’s interest, maintain their curiosity and make them want to digest your awareness-raising material to the end, you need to think beyond what they will be seeing all the time in medical channels and perhaps break a paradigm or two.

Think creatively about every aspect of your assets and perhaps try the unexpected when it comes to layout, design and messaging. You might try drawing from associations outside of pharma, or be inspired by approaches used in other industries. Or you might simply experiment with new ways of using existing formats or the physical materials.

A word of warning, though. When formulating your creative campaign ideas, remember to stay within parameters that your audience will relate to. Going too experimental or deliberately sensationalist in a medical context, maybe using imagery or subject matter completely unrelated to the disease, will convey a flippant attitude and will likely lead to your audience not taking your campaign seriously.

4. Use language that speaks in the right tone

The way you say something is just as important as what you say. Always pay careful attention to who you are trying to reach with your disease awareness campaign and avoid language that might obscure your message or cause your readers to discount what you are saying.

In the case of HCPs, it’s important to speak to them in their own tone of voice. They are regularly dealing with patients in a way that shows respect, conveys a professional level of care and enhances their own authority. All this builds trust between them and their patients. They are also typically time-poor, with a low tolerance for ‘salesy’ language and emotive descriptions. 

In your messaging, get to the point quickly. Lead with the facts and ensure all wording around symptoms, recommendations and treatment efficacy is clear, succinct and (where possible) supported by references. Also, at this stage, you don’t need to bog your reader down in minutiae – you’re getting them to recognise the disease and remember it. All the above will show you respect the HCP’s intelligence and their time.

5. Build presence

With an awareness campaign, it’s imperative to get your assets in front of the people you are most trying to help – in this case, HCPs. The most effective way to do this is to study which channels your target audience interacts with on a daily basis – particularly if relevant to the disease area – and make sure your campaign shows up and reaches them.

Even if you think the answer is obvious, ask: where are they most likely to notice your campaign? You’ll likely have to consider a range of channels and approaches – online, in print and perhaps traditional media. 

Will your target HCPs typically be more likely to notice material left on display boards or coffee tables? In industry periodicals or mainstream media? Or would a carefully-worded envelope sent through the post compel their attention? Perhaps you need to also consider a webinar or conference presentation? Even social media networks, including LinkedIn and even Instagram or Facebook. Or all of the above? In the quest to build presence, you may have to cover many bases.

Whichever you land on, remember: don’t let channel lead; let creative lead. This way, your campaign will remain consistent and instantly recognisable, wherever it is encountered.

Case example: LHON

Our project for Raxone – Santhera’s therapy for Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy.

Background: LHON is an extremely rare disease, causing painless vision loss, typically affecting men aged 15-35. The result of mutations in the mitochondrial DNA and often misdiagnosed, the primary symptom is a black spot in the centre of vision of one and subsequently both eyes that steadily expands to cause total blindness. 

Due to its rapid progression, the sooner patients are treated, the better their outcomes. We understood that a low level of awareness of LHON had in the past meant that delays in identifying patients had resulted in negative patient outcomes. 

Features of the awareness campaign:

  • Visually, to create an association with warning signs, we chose a style that reflected road signage – using a simple mix of black and red on white. All type and main icons were flat black, with bullet icons, highlighted statistics and graphic embellishments in red. This created a palpable impact on the reader, while also presenting all information in a way that was easy and quick to digest. 
  • To make sure the leavepiece made an impression and stuck in the reader’s memory – and also made a hard-hitting statement about the ‘black spot’ at the start of sight loss – we incorporated a hole running through the middle of every page of the document, culminating in an ‘hourglass’ icon the reflect the sense of urgency. Time is indeed quickly running out. 
  • All messaging was kept to the minimum, conveying all concepts and information in as quick and clear a way as possible. This left no margin for misunderstanding and wasted no time in getting to the crucial issues around the disease. We wanted people to be engaged, to read and to absorb the key points, and then to act. This campaign achieved that aim perfectly. 

Real-life results

Responses to this awareness campaign were very positive. One in particular stood out to us and brought home the direct impact we can have as marketers on people’s lives.

Following the roll-out of our campaign across Europe, we were contacted by an HCP in northern Norway. They confessed that they would never have diagnosed LHON if it hadn’t been for our campaign, and affirmed that our material for Santhera had resulted in the best possible outcome for their patient: control of the disease and slowing the vision loss.

Common principles

A disease awareness campaign shares many of the common marketing principles that apply to many promotional campaigns across the board. It’s vital to have a complete grasp of your audience’s priorities, to select your channels tactically and to create memorable assets that drive your point home. 

But perhaps most important for awareness campaigns is the element of tone, and an awareness of what tone will connect effectively with your audience. As we’ve mentioned, you need to be precise, factual, concise and respectful of your reader’s time, their intelligence and their patients’ situation. 

At the awareness stage, it’s also important to not get embroiled in every minute detail about the disease, no matter how rare. The aim is to gain attention and effectively convey the facts so HCPs understand how to recognise the disease and act to treat it promptly.

Strip your words back and keep it simple. Speak to the facts, urgency and outcomes. 

The most important point to remember is this: 

You are not just raising awareness to get more patients using your treatment; you’re raising it so no patients get missed.

Give your treatment the best chance of success

Awareness is often the biggest challenge you face in marketing your treatments. For your next awareness project, come to Dice and benefit from creative campaign material that will ensure you’re a brand HCPs remember. 

Please get in touch with the Dice team if you need help creating a strategy that gets your treatment in front of the people who need it most.