Draw the Line Against Malaria: how Dentsu supported a generation who will end the disease

Dentsu International won the Grand Prix at The Drum Awards for Social Purpose, for its work with Malaria No More UK. It also won ‘Not-for-Profit Campaign of the Year’. A youth-led, grassroots project that reminded African governments of their commitment to eradicating the world’s oldest ad deadliest disease. Here, the team behind this winning entry explains how it was brought to life with the support of volunteers around the world.

Malaria is the world’s oldest and deadliest disease - over 500 million people a year die from malaria and it kills a child every two minutes (most under the age of five). But it is both preventable and curable. In 2020, the case for action became even more critical with predictions by the World Health Organization that the Covid-19 pandemic could cause deaths related to malaria to double. At the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, all 53 country leaders committed to halve malaria by 2023. Despite this, attitudes to malaria have become normalized and urgent action is needed. Progress is currently not on track and heads of state need to be reminded to meet that ambitious goal through constructive public pressure by the population that is affected the most: African youth.

NGO campaigns in the past have focused on the problem and plight of Malaria, applying an outside-in perspective led by western celebrity endorsements. African youth who grew up with Malaria as an inevitable fact of life had lost hope in a malaria-free future, and as a result the approach didn’t resonate with this generation and delivered short lived results. Africa has the youngest population in the world with over 60% under the age of 25. Africa has also become an influential force in the global culture zeitgeist. With this in mind, we looked to the world of art, music, fashion, and entertainment to connect to the public on a cultural level, creating a campaign that would highlight the energy, creativity, and positivity of Africa.

In collaboration with over 100 Dentsu volunteers across the globe, we worked with Malaria No More UK to create a global brand, ‘Zero Malaria’, and a campaign ‘Draw the Line Against Malaria’ to start a global movement that would raise awareness, galvanize communities, and influence world leaders to take urgent action to deliver the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG3.3) to end malaria by 2030 – which would in turn strengthen health systems, reduce infant mortality and help to eradicate malaria within our lifetime.

Objectives and execution

We developed four core campaign objectives:

  • Encourage leaders to take accountability and action to move malaria up the political agenda and put pressure on governments to take urgent action to deliver the 2023 Commonwealth Commitment, including marking key milestones such as Rwanda Kigali CHOGM 2021 & other key African country commitments and action plans

  • Create a sense of public mandate that provides leaders with the reward and cover to move ending malaria up the political agenda and put pressure on governments to take urgent action

  • Galvanize and inspire youth to own the malaria fight and be the generation to end malaria - involving high impact content with a list of celebrities, storytelling and media partnerships

  • Inform and engage the general public in ending malaria as an investment in pandemic preparedness, and support in fighting Covid-19

Draw the Line Against Malaria is a movement led by the generation that will end malaria, with Africa at its heart. To tap into African culture, we partnered with Nigerian artist, activist and lawyer, Láolú Sebanjo, known worldwide for his use of visually compelling body painting to shed light on important issues. Together we created the ‘Muundo’, a modern celebration of Africa's oldest art form: traditional line painting. The Muundo was used in the creation of a modular digital platform that allowed people from all over the world to add their own line to a crowdsourced piece of art; a collective call to end malaria.

To tell the story of the Muundo and the symbols it contains we created an animation film that shows how this piece of art starts on a body but grows to cover the world. The film was narrated by Grammy award winning singer, songwriter, actress and activist Yemi Alade. A line-up of famous African talent in sports, music, and entertainment supported wider engagement, including the world’s fastest marathon runner, Eliud Kipchoge, South African rugby captain Siya Kolisi, award-winning Rwandan British choreographer Sherrie Silver, actress Omotola Ekeinde and many more. They featured in an emotional and powerful launch video introducing our movement.

Using this and the flexibility of the Muundo platform on zeromalaria.org, we weaved our message into the fabric of modern culture. As every movement needs a uniform, we worked with Nigerian streetwear label InOfficial to launch a collection that allowed everyone to wear the Muundo.

Subsequently, on World Mosquito Day on the August 20 2021, we launched a digital face filter that allowed youth to wear the Muundo as a face mask. The filter was launched in partnership with a diverse group of African influencers.

To track progress in the Malaria fight we launched the Malaria tracker, a real-time dashboard that compares the actual cases and deaths against the ambition that has been set. After a meeting of the Commonwealth Health Ministers on 20-21 May 2021, the following statement was released: “We agree to accelerate progress towards the target of halving malaria by 2023 and resolve to continue our commitment to combating the disease across the Commonwealth in order to achieve regional and global malaria targets for 2030. We welcome the initiation of having a ‘Commonwealth Malaria Tracker’ and observe that this will assist in monitoring targets and identify areas for improvement.”

There was one inescapable challenge that made this campaign unlike any Dentsu had worked on before: we had zero media budget. Every TV spot, outdoor billboard, print insertion and digital impression had to be negotiated pro bono - we designed all assets to cater for any free media generous partners were able to donate.

Results

Results so far have exceeded expectations. The campaign and the Muundo have created a movement – and as of August 2021, we have:

  • Reached 1.4 billion total campaign impressions

  • Unlocked over 3 million dollars in pro bono media

  • Donated 10,000 volunteer hours

  • Reached over 540 million people through organic digital reach

  • Generated over 7.5 million video views and over 2 million site visits

  • Generated a total of 24.7 million campaign engagements through the zeromalaria website, video views, Draw the Line toolkits and more.

Whilst the campaign was initially launched in African markets in February 2021 in support of the African Union Summit, it also launched globally on World Malaria Day on 25 April– with media in the UK, US, India and Australia. The movement has been featured on BBC, CNN, CNBC, Al Jazeera, SKY, MTV and many more. Digital and billboard out of home adverts were placed across Africa, in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Ghana, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa, as well as across the UK.

The campaign was included in policy discussions in Rwanda, Zambia and Kenya 25 times. 76 governments and NGOs leveraged the campaign on World Malaria Day, creating a global call to end malaria.

A youth survey carried out in Kenya and Nigeria in May 2021 found:

  • 69% of youth surveyed believe Malaria can be eliminated in their country

  • 70% found the campaign empowering and made them want to get involved

  • Young people considering the eradication of malaria as the highest ‘priority level their government should give to ending malaria’ almost doubled (from 18% to 30%)

  • Young people who say ‘ending malaria is a priority for my future’ increased from 29% to 41%

But most importantly, even in a year dominated by Covid-19, Commonwealth leaders established a principle of reporting on the malaria elimination process within the Commonwealth and reaffirmed their commitment to halving malaria by 2023 and ending it by 2030.

This campaign was a winner at The Drum Awards for Social Purpose. To find out more, including which competitions are currently open for entry, visit The Drum Awards website.