Showcase #2: doing it for the whanau

How GSL Network got women talking, acting and saving their own lives

How GSL Network got women talking, acting and saving their own lives

See also: Creative Showcase is an advertising supplement created by Idealog. For information on upcoming Creative Showcases, call Ben Gibb on 09 966–0997 or email

Advertising’s important, sure. But can it save lives? Absolutely. And a campaign by GSL Network for the Ministry of Health’s National Screening Unit is testament to the fact.

Cervical cancer is preventable, yet New Zealand women continue to die from it. In 1990 the National Cervical Screening Programme was set up to try and reduce the number of women succumbing to the disease by increasing screening rates.

Wellington-based GSL Network was charged with devising a campaign that would encourage New Zealand women, particularly Maori and Pacific women, to take responsibility for their health and make the time to go for a smear test.

Changing attitudes

GSL Network discovered that for many women cervical screening was simply not a priority, particularly for Maori and Pacific women, who have higher mortality rates from cervical cancer. With screening rates at only 47 percent and 46 percent respectively (compared to 80 percent for other women), Maori and Pacific women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer and three to four times more likely to die from it.

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The real challenge was to find ways into the busy lives of women as mothers, wives, carers and workers, says Trevor Shailer, general manager of marketing and business development.

“We needed to get them to recognise the impact cervical cancer could have on their lives and their families, and to persuade them to make the time for a cervical smear,” he says. “This campaign has a huge target audience. There are 1.2 million New Zealand women eligible for screening [all women aged 20 to 70 years]; 200,000 women were not enrolled, so they had to be encouraged to join the programme. The campaign also needed to remind all women in the total audience to continue to be screened every three years.”

Communicating the message

GSL’s main strategy was to create conversations, using language that women could relate to. Their research identified that direct, compelling messages would work best for Maori, while humour would facilitate discussions about screening among Pacific women. Support from friends would increase the likelihood that all women would go for screening.

The main message of the campaign was that regular cervical screening could save your life and the lives of women you love. Advertising included a range of emotions, real people’s stories and motivational themes such as music and humour. Advertising has been placed on a range of media including Maori and Pacific specific media.

Highly effective online creative and strategy was also used to drive women to the National Screening Unit’s website and other resources. In the first three weeks of September, 8,000 women visited the site.

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Life-saving results

The success of GSL’s cervical screening campaign is undeniable. Tens of thousands of women, some of whom would have died, have been screened already.

“With a population-based programme like this, the percentages may seem small, but the actual numbers are enormous,” says Shailer. “The campaign saw an increase of 31,500 in the number of women being screened between its launch, in September 2007, and March 2009. And more than 26,000 of these women were from the priority audiences.”

In just 12 months, over three-quarters of women reported taking action as a result of the campaign, phone calls to the 0800 service line were up by one third, and screening rates have lifted hugely—almost 16 percent amongst the priority groups.

GSL’s work is a valuable part of the Ministry of Health’s programme and has prevented at least 15 cases of cancer and five deaths, not to mention its significant role in reminding women already enrolled in the programme to be rescreened.

“The quantitative data associated with the campaign is overwhelmingly positive—as is the feedback received from screening providers,” says Shailer. “GSL’s work has added value to the National Cervical Screening Programme at every level, making sure that New Zealand women live longer, healthier lives, continuing to contribute to families, communities and society.”

This successful campaign has achieved the ultimate objective—saving lives.

It’s also gained industry attention for GSL Network, making the finals of the 2009 TVNZ/NZ Marketing Awards and the EFFIE Awards.

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Who’s behind it all?

Established 11 years ago by managing director Leigh Graham, GSL Network has a core team of 17 strategy, project management, digital and media experts, and a further 30 people actively working within its network.

This collaborative and engaging approach allows GSL to be nimble, cost-efficient and effective while delivering a tailored package to its clients.

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