This story provides an illustration of:
- Leveraging events
- Fostering champions and expert advocates
- Implementing a media campaign
- Using social media
- The impact of advocacy
India has the largest under-five mortality rate in the world. Every year, almost half a million children die of diseases that could otherwise be prevented through immunisation. To promote immunisation, Global Health Strategies (GHS), a public health advocacy and communications consultancy, designed and executed a media campaign that harnessed the nation’s love for cricket—and grabbed the attention of the media across the country.
Leveraging an event: World Immunization Week
Key to the GHS strategy was the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament, which took place during World Immunisation Week (24-30 April 2014). IPL is the most watched event in Indian television with a vast audience base across the globe. GHS used that week to roll out a strategic campaign that spanned across print, social media, television and radio, and brought together sport persons and celebrities to raise awareness about the importance of routine immunisation.
Implementing a media campaign
During the match between two franchise teams – Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) and Kolkata Knight Riders – in April 2014, fans watched as their favorite KXIP players hit the field wearing blue wrist bands that simply read SHOT 4 LIFE, as a tribute to World Immunisation Week. Those watching TV saw KXIP team members explain the significance of the bands and the importance of immunisation through interviews and sound bites during the match. Commentators on international sports channels took the opportunity to talk about this unique initiative. Press releases sent out prior to the game created a buzz about the initiative, and through stories across television channels and newspapers, the SHOT 4 LIFE campaign had managed to raise awareness about the importance of immunisation.
Engaging celebrity champions
What added to the buzz was Preity Zinta, Bollywood celebrity and KXIP Punjab co-owner, talking about the need to improve immunisation coverage in the country while the match was being beamed to thousands of homes across India. Through celebrity engagement, the campaign managed to highlight the importance of immunisation.
Employing social media and media buys
The initiative was also supported by a strong social media strategy which included Facebook and Twitter. Priety Zinta, the KXIP franchise players, senior journalists and parliamentarians tweeted about SHOT 4 LIFE prior to the game, reaching out to hundreds of thousands of online followers. Tweets incorporated keywords such as #shot4life, #worldimmunizationweek, #vaccineswork and #immunization.
Some Twitter followers responded by expressing their support to the initiative—even asking to buy their own bands or encouraging fans to wear blue jerseys in solidarity with the team. The Twitter posts reached far and wide through re-tweets not only from fans but also from international organisations. Supporters continued tweeting about SHOT 4 LIFE after World Immunisation Week. When India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released a music video on 19 August to promote child immunisation, #shot4life returned as a hashtag.
On Facebook, the team uploaded photos related to immunisation and status updates highlighting World Immunisation Week. A photo featuring a KXIP player taking a pledge received over 38,000 likes and over 1,000 shares online. Also part of the campaign included spot messages that were aired in intervals through the week on one of the most popular radio channels.
Support through expert voices and evidence
To build up the evidence base, GHS worked with technical experts to extend the message on immunisation by reaching out to notable Indian physicians and technical experts to speak out and write opinion pieces about the importance of child immunisation during the week. For example, Dr. Geeta Sodhi of the NGO Swaasthya authored a blog on lowering child mortality through immunisation titled, “Roadmap to Defeating Childhood Diseases”; Dr. Suniti Solomon’s op-ed “Every child has the right to survive” appeared in a leading regional newspaper; Lok Sabha TV, a part of the National broadcaster Doordarshan, aired a panel discussion featuring prominent doctors from medical centers and university including Dr. V.K. Paul from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences who spoke about the need to improve immunisation coverage among children in India; one of the panelists, Dr. N. K. Arora, also spoke on a thirty-minute question-and-answer radio programme; and a live web-chat on national broadcasting network CNN IBN website saw President of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics Dr. Vijay Yewale answering queries about child immunisation. In addition to providing the public with accurate information about immunisation and the need for immediate action, physicians also chimed in on Twitter to raise awareness during World Immunisation Week.
Impact through strategic advocacy
Strategically timed, the SHOT 4 LIFE campaign implemented a variety of approaches that leveraged the popularity of celebrities and the knowledge of renowned medical professionals. These elements, used synergistically, became the backbone of an immunisation advocacy strategy that effectively reached India’s masses.