Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common group of viruses easily spread through sexual contact and while most people who contract HPV never display any serious symptoms, the virus can cause a range of cancers, cervical cancer being the key danger in females.

Since 2008 the Scottish Government has offered a nationwide HPV immunisation programme to all S1 teenage girls to reduce instances of cancer in later life. The programme has been delivered predominantly through the school network, however, on-going research highlighted that it would also be advantageous to expand the HPV vaccination programme to include teenage boys to further cut the spread of the HPV virus. Additionally, the vaccine would also offer protection to Scottish boys from a range of cancers.

In 2019 NHS Scotland asked us to support the roll-out of this important vaccine programme to all teenagers by creating a national awareness campaign to inform, educate and encourage take-up of the vaccine.

Promoting what is essentially viewed as a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) vaccination to teenagers was a communications challenge in itself.

Add the fact that HPV had become seen predominantly as a female-only vaccination, and that the conversations between parent and teenager to discuss the need for the vaccine, were often taking place at a time when parents were only just beginning to talk to their young people about sexual activity, the complexity of the brief required a carefully-balanced campaign to ensure the programme’s success.

To ensure the communications would resonate with often sceptical teenagers, we worked closely with a Oban High School to test creative concepts, tone of voice, design and animations, which ensured all key messages would hit home. It was paramount that the language, animation and photography used in all communications was appropriate and while communicating the serious nature of the HPV vaccine didn’t cause unnecessary anxiety, fear or confusion among children or parents.

We used the sessions with the school children as an opportunity to enable the young people a  genuine input into the art direction and photography of the materials produced, giving them an  insight into how an important nationwide communications campaign is created and rolled out.