Best media relations campaign 2014

Bayer Animal Health: Advocate

Agencies: Markettiers4dc, Pegasus

Lungworm, also known as angiostrongylus vasorum, is a parasite contracted by dogs eating infected snails that is potentially fatal. Indeed, recent research has indicated that lungworm is spreading across the UK and is at an endemic level.

Bayer Animal Health has produced a preventative treatment, Advocate, but due to licensing issues is unable to communicate these benefits to the public. Instead, Bayer was keen to create a campaign that would make vets and dog owners aware of the dangers of lungworm, thereby encouraging them to act on the problem.

First, Bayer conducted research among vets, nurses and pet owners to understand the prevailing view. This revealed that one third of dog owners use signs of illness as a prompt to check for parasites. However, while one in two owners were aware of the dangers of lungworm, 84 per cent were unclear on the clinical signs of infection.

This insight helped shape a campaign that would communicate the risks of lungworm to owners, encouraging them to discuss preventative measures with vets, but would also provide a talking point for vets to help them initiate discussions about lungworm protection plans.

In partnership with the Ecology Department of Exeter University, 450 snails were marked with non-toxic paint and LED lights for visual tracking. They were released into an area the size of an average garden and tracked for seven days to reveal their ‘secret’ lives, which showed how they moved up to 25 metres in 24 hours and sought out shelter in long grass, trees and even dogs’ toys.

The findings were collated into a visual report that included an introduction to snails and lungworm, as well as advice on symptoms, prevention and treatment. It was hosted online via a campaign website and also on Facebook. Time-lapse footage of the experiment coupled with behind-the-scenes interviews were used to create a video news feature. Vets were also supported with bespoke materials for waiting rooms.

Dr Dave Hodgson, senior lecturer at Exeter University, was available for interview on the day of the report’s launch. His radio and television interviews on breakfast shows, which also included the time-lapse footage, meant that the subject dominated the broadcast new agenda. The findings were also reported in every national newspaper, and in most of the relevant trade publications, such as Veterinary Times and Dogs Monthly, as well as in overseas publications.

The coverage led to a 17-fold increase in traffic to lungworm.co.uk, and 21,000 new visitors in one month, and 30,000 packs of Advocate were sold during the campaign.

‘This was a very creative and inventive way to tackle the issue,’ said the judges. ‘And it achieved excellent results.’