"The medical community did not do a good job of educating women," Rogers says. "It was going to fall to Merck to educate the
population about HPV and genital warts. They have done just a superb job of tackling the sensitive aspects of this vaccine."
For Merck's marketing team, the campaign had to be divided into two parts: the unbranded, disease awareness part, and the
post-approval, branded part, which finally urged women to "get vaccinated." The company worked with advertising agency DDB
and public relations firm Edelman on both pieces.
"Make the Connection" was the first phase of the disease awareness effort. The conduit for that connection was beaded bracelet
kits that girls could order over the Internet—stringing together the beads, stringing together the facts about HPV and cervical
cancer that were included in the accompanying educational packet. Celebrities sported their own beaded bracelets at various
events. Merck also pledged to donate $1 (up to $100,000) to the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation for each kit ordered.
The response was so great that
http://maketheconnection.org/ ran out of kits. "We've had reports of girls getting together to make their own 'Make the Connection' project," Lybrand says.
Bev Lybrand, vice president and general manager for Gardasil
The next evolution of the campaign, "Tell Someone," tapped into "women's natural inclination" as talkers and sharers, Lybrand
notes. In no uncertain terms, women were told: don't ignore this, don't be shy, talk about it. Actresses in the TV ads spoke
directly to the camera, as if speaking directly to a friend, family member, or simply another girl who needed to know. Sitting
down in front of their own computers, girls could send out personalized "Tell Someone" e-cards—imprinted with girls lining
up to use the phone or gossiping together at a beauty salon—stamped with the question: "Did you know that cervical cancer
is caused by certain types of a common virus?"
"The call to action was to do something about awareness," Lybrand says. "The creative was one of the most fun and well-thought-out
pieces of work."
The disease awareness effort did more than just play on cancer fears, but drew on themes of safeguarding your children (for
moms) and empowerment (for girls). "Of course everyone understands cancer and is scared of cancer," Lybrand says. But, "We
learned early on that moms really wanted to protect their daughters—that protective insight is important. For young women,
they want to empower themselves to take control of their own destiny."
The timing for the campaign was fortuitous for Merck, coming on the heels of another HPV-awareness effort. In March 2005,
a Maryland-based molecular diagnostics company, Digene, launched its own direct-to-consumer TV and print advertising campaign
to introduce its DNA-based HPV test, DNAwithPap. "It's been sort of a progression of information," says L. Jo Parrish, vice
president for institutional advancement at the Society for Women's Health Research, which named Gardasil its top women's health
story of 2006. "We've talked about pap tests for a long time. The launch of the HPV-DNA test did a lot to make the connection
to cervical cancer."
But the launch of Gardasil represented the first time someone could offer a message about prevention—really, one of the first
times a drug or vaccine could offer that hope for any cancer. "That's a wonderful message," Parrish says.