Words by Michaila Byrne
Creatives are all too familiar with the old chestnut ‘write what you know’, and contemporary filmmakers who have drawn from their own lives have only proven this philosophy to resonate with audiences and critics alike. The commercial and critical success of Hollywood films like Greta Gerwig’s Ladybird, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood all incorporate the directors’ personal experiences. When it comes to marketing campaigns, marketers could do well to take a leaf out of Hollywood’s book and adopt similar approaches: narratives that are led by and in consultation with the communities and people they hope to serve.
One of the best examples of this in action is the Malaria No More campaign, which collaborated with artists and leading voices from sport and the arts, such as Eliud Kipchoge, Siya Kolisi, Dr Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, and Sherrie Silva. Speaking at Cannes Lions Live 2021, Láolú Senbanjo, Artist and Art Director, cited his heritage and Nigerian culture as his biggest inspiration to convey a youthful and positive message: “It’s very important that every person from the continent feel included. This is our malaria story; we are the ones telling our story. So, we are talking about the message, and we are talking about how urgent it is to take a step and take action against this disease that has ravaged our continent.”
Instead of doing that in a sequence of individual one-off campaigns, we wanted to create a movement
Particularly during a pandemic, giving air-time to awareness around malaria was no easy feat, so as Daniël Sytsma, Global Chief Design Officer, Dentsu and Isobar, explains, a longevity mindset was of the utmost importance: “In the end we want to end malaria, one of the oldest and deadliest diseases, in our lifetime. Instead of doing that in a sequence of individual one-off campaigns, we wanted to create a movement.” To produce truly game-changing campaigns that can help beat these kinds of diseases, causes need to stay top of mind, which can only be achieved by keeping the public and political leaders engaged.
Collaboration was a crucial component to the campaign’s success: “Africa is a continent where young people are on their mobile phones, so we took the bold approach of recruiting influencers from across all parts of Africa who added their voices and weaved their talents into the concept, which would help it go deeper down into cultural context and different countries across the continent,” explains Kate Wills, Global Director of Communications and Partnerships, Malaria No More UK. Alongside this powerhouse of talented creators, it was important to bring partners like the UN, the WHO, the Gates Foundation, and the African Union together. As Wills details: “All too often we create campaigns that, if we are lucky, get into the news for one day, and then it disappears and other news comes to the surface. This campaign has had several peaks already and so much opportunity and potential to continue spreading and growing in all sorts of directions.” The result was an optimistic and effective global movement that resonated culturally, allowed people to become ambassadors, and ultimately is sustainable. “We knew that young people were living through malaria and not really having faith in a future without malaria. After the campaign we ran a survey and 70% of young people now believe it can be eradicated in their country, which is so powerful and positive,” explains Sytsma.
All too often we create campaigns that, if we are lucky, get into the news for one day, and then it disappears
A similarly ambitious marketing campaign that worked in collaboration with community leaders was Telenor’s Naming the Invisible by Digital Birth Registration, which won this year’s Cannes Lions Grand Prix by unanimous vote. Due to social and economic factors, more than 60 million children in Pakistan cannot obtain a birth certificate, but through leveraging mobile tools, Telenor teamed up with UNICEF to provide a digital pathway to registration, which in turn will enable people to gain access to medical care.
In short, when a foundation of partnership, understanding, and respect is established, brands can allow communities who have personal connection with the subject matter to lend their voices for greater authenticity and impact. It is through this approach that fleeting, singular campaigns are transformed to long-term, global, sustained movements.