FluTube: What Pharma Can Learn from Novartis' YouTube Campaign

Novartis partnered with Cadient to deliver a very successful unbranded interactive Web video campaign. Watch (at YouTube) and learn.
Feb 01, 2008


Sara Donnelly
When Novartis asked Cadient to develop a cutting-edge, unbranded direct-to-consumer campaign for its Fluvirin influenza vaccine, the agency responded with a novel concept: engage the nearly limitless YouTube audience in a Web video competition called FluFlix. The basic idea was to create a video about your experience with or knowledge of the flu and share it with the world via YouTube. Entrants could submit videos in the categories of Kids and the Flu, Sports and the Flu, and Workplace and the Flu. The incentive? A tidy $500 to the first-place winner in each category. With Novartis on board, Cadient developed a groundbreaking campaign that achieved success far beyond the expectations of both the ad agency and the client. The campaign also successfully managed to skirt some of the regulatory headaches that naturally plague any pharma-related interactive Web venture.

In case you've been living in an underground bunker (or have been in bed with the flu) for the past two years, here's the scoop on YouTube: It is far and away the most popular video-sharing site on the Internet. Launched in the cofounder's garage in December 2005, YouTube has quickly become a ubiquitous part of the online experience. In November 2006, Google purchased YouTube, launching the site to even greater fame (and, to an extent, infamy).

Pete Dannenfelser, vice president for strategic innovation at Cadient, supervised the team that rolled out the campaign. He explains that strategic innovation "really is the driving force behind this program. It's applying innovation with a distinct and definitive goal as opposed to innovation for innovation's sake, which is at times one of the biggest challenges."


Doing Web 2.0 Well
In that vein, he and his partners cooked up a most unusual and, yes, innovative approach to unbranded marketing. "Specifically working with YouTube was Cadient's idea," Dannenfelser says. "It was important to get out the message about the importance of getting your flu vaccine. So with that in mind, Novartis asked us, 'How can we use the Web to best do that?' Our recommendation was to use an existing community. I think that's an important point when you're doing anything in Web 2.0. To try to create a viral video contest on a pharma-sponsored Web site probably wouldn't have been as successful. The YouTube idea literally came out of viral marketing ideas based on the word 'virus.' It was kind of a made-to-order application. It was really quite perfect. YouTube is very open to working with sponsored content and sponsored promotions. The very nature of YouTube now is that you can't go to the front page without seeing sponsored and promoted sections. There are large numbers of official video areas."

But Novartis and Cadient didn't simply open the floodgates to allow users to post anything they wanted in the official FluFlix video area, which also included a link to a Novartis-sponsored flu-education Web site, http://FluSource.com/. Mindful of the pitfalls associated with adverse-event reporting in the public Web space, they retained a system administrator to review every video submission.

Dannenfelser recalls, "There were a handful of videos that came through that were either inappropriate or that did not meet the criteria. If things came through that had nothing to do with the flu, it was quite all right for Novartis and our administration to pull the content." He adds, however, that for a targeted community to trust the sponsor, it is essential that the sponsor clearly lay out the ground rules in advance.

Novartis took further steps to ensure the safety of the campaign by requiring all entrants to be 18 years of age or older. In the end, 60 entries were approved for the contest, and a team at Novartis scored each video based on set criteria, including creativity and originality, content, and the persuasiveness of the message.