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Gaming tackles back pain

Case study: Raising awareness of Ankylosing Spondylitis among men aged 18-40 via online, gaming and video channels

Published: 30 Nov 2011

Gaming tackles back pain

The online game delivered a simple message to its hard-to-reach audience.

Client: Pfizer

Agency: OgilvyHealthPR

Campaign: Back in Play

Timescale: June 2010 to ongoing

A quick look

By intimately understanding what makes young men tick, Back in Play delivered a simple healthcare message to a notoriously difficult to reach audience 38 million times. Built on a strong, simple strategy it used multiple channels to flood the world of men aged 18-40 with symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), a progressive, debilitating condition. Complemented by a targeted media strategy and capitalising on World Cup fever, the campaign used football, online, gaming and video to cast a wide net and motivate those most likely to have AS, yet unaware of it, to seek information and reduce confusion with common back pain.


With a barely pronounceable name, frequent confusion with common back pain and substantial delays in diagnosis, it is not surprising that the general public lack awareness the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis (AS).

Affecting one in 200 people, and most common in men aged 18 to 40, Pfizer Inc. challenged OgilvyHealthPR to spread the word about the signs and symptoms of this painful and progressive disease to young men across Europe. The main objective of the campaign was to effectively reinforce the need for early symptomatic recognition and diagnosis among this typically difficult to reach audience, in order to minimise long-term impact.


The strategy was simple – to cast a wide net, capture the one in 200 unidentified AS patient in a large and generic target audience and motivate them to find out more about back pain and AS.

As such Back in Play was closely aligned with the habits of the target audience and, capitalising on the FIFA World Cup in 2010, used football to reach men aged 18 to 40 and deliver simple, subtle messages about the symptoms of AS.

Seeding a game online, where high levels of concentration mean good message retention, proved the perfect channel to reach vast numbers of the relevant audience quickly, with the symptoms. Research indicated online channels were critical but that men want entertainment, not education, online and insights confirmed the information had to find them - they were not going to seek it out.

The integrated campaign was complemented by professional footballer endorsement, online promotion, a dedicated YouTube channel and a targeted online and offline media campaign driving large numbers of potential patients to the campaign website and successfully exposing them to simple messaging about AS symptoms.


  • 16 million plays of Back in Play game on over 450 websites
  • 450,000+ website visits with an average of 1 in 5 website visitors viewing specific AS information
  • Triple the target number of potential patients seeking AS information
  • Over 47,000 views of 11 videos on YouTube featuring international professional footballers and opinion leaders
  • 12 active European affiliates
  • 20+ million reached with print and broadcast coverage
  • 6 national patient groups engaged.

Client verdict

"We are delighted with the results of Back in Play which has exceeded all our expectations, as well as the objectives set. It has made a significant impact, both internally and externally, using an innovative and integrated multi-channel approach. It has proven longevity and secured really strong engagement with an audience that is traditionally not easy for a disease awareness campaign to reach. We look forward to building on its success and rolling out the next exciting phase in 2011"

Rupert Watts Senior Manager, eMarketing, Pfizer Specialty Care

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