'We created the first lollipop that can save lives' – Behind the Campaign, with Life Lolli

The Life Lolli campaign has won many plaudits – and accolades, including several PRWeek Global Awards and Purpose Awards wins. We hear from Jana Brüss, PR consultant at Ketchum Germany, and Marei Wilke, client service director at BBDO Germany.

'We created the first lollipop that can save lives' – Behind the Campaign, with Life Lolli

What was the campaign, in a nutshell?

We created the first lollipop that can save lives: the Life Lolli – a tasty lollipop in the shape of a heart with a swab instead of a stick to collect DNA – to be the perfect social media motif. By making the experience of tissue typing more playful and less medical, the Life Lolli won the hearts and minds of a younger donor audience.

How did the idea come into being?

The friend of an art director working at BBDO died from a blood cancer. A stem cell donation would have been his only chance for survival, but he could not find the right match (for many people, the chances are as low as winning the lottery jackpot). Young DNA donors (aged 18 to 30) are statistically the best candidates due to their better health and physical condition, but the least likely to donate.

To spur donations, the colleague conceived the idea of turning a DNA swab into a tasty lollipop, believing this would make it fun and irresistible for young Germans to donate their DNA.

BBDO approached the Bone Marrow Donor Center of the University Hospital Düsseldorf (KMSZ), housing Germany’s biggest university registry for stem cell donations, and they helped bring the idea to life.

Briefly describe the campaign planning and process.

It took about five months from campaign conception to the launch of Life Lolli on International Children’s Cancer Day 2019. BBDO immediately realised it needed to operate like a start-up to handle everything from product development, testing, packaging and production to fundraising, PR and promotion.

Step 1: Life Lolli design. KMSZ scientists tested different lollipop variants to create the perfect one. Testing had to confirm that the Life Lolli could collect DNA as effectively as a regular swab.

Step 2: Onboarding pro bono partners. The Peter Schmidt Group joined the team to lead package design, CI development and the colourful lollipop design. Ketchum Germany and Fuse led the charge to recruit the target audience’s favourite influencers to join the crusade for free and spread the news organically about Life Lolli. We knew influencers were critical to motivating young people to donate to the registry. The success of the campaign was dependent on PR and earned media coverage to launch Life Lolli. Through extensive outreach, media outlets across Germany covered the innovation.

Step 3: Fundraising. Producing large quantities of lollipops required funding. KMSZ opened doors to different charitable trusts, with three agreeing to finance €100,000 for Life Lolli production.

Step 4: Campaign launch. BBDO produced campaign assets and the microsite in-house. The Life Lolli, complete with a self-mailing pouch for easy submission, was offered for free on www.lifelolli.com. We sought community partners, including sports clubs, fitness studios, supermarkets, corner stores and employers across Germany, to drive awareness and distribution of Life Lollis.

What were the biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

1. Having no production and media budget. As an institute under public law, KMSZ is obliged to reinvest its revenues in education and research, so fundraising had to cover all costs. Thanks to earned media and the pro bono support of Germany’s biggest influencers, we created awareness cost effectively.

2. Developing a new medical product and producing it on a large scale. The Life Lolli prototype was only possible due to the KMSZ’s scientists. We ultimately collaborated with several manufacturers to meet the needed capacities.

How did you measure the results, and what were they?

Our influencers reached 85.5 million people and drove more than 628,000 social interactions (source: Talkwalker). News media published 123 news stories, generating 127m impressions. Approximately 21.6 per cent of website visitors ordered a Life Lolli (about one in five out of 150,000 monthly visits). In April 2019 alone, donor registrations exceeded 15,000 (compared to 9,198 in all of 2018). And perhaps the campaign’s most significant achievement: donors were 11 years younger than the norm (down from 37 to 26 in 2019).

What're the biggest lessons you took away from the campaign?

1. Sometimes a solution for a business problem must go beyond communication. We invented a new product to make the serious medical nature of donating DNA appealing to Millennials, who weren’t previously donating.

2. The power and importance of partnerships to make big ideas a reality.

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