Merck refreshes HPV awareness creative to give its campaign a boost

Merck may have refreshed its HPV awareness campaign with new creative, but the focus remains on cancer prevention. In a now-airing TV ad, parents take a stand as they speak directly to the camera standing in front of their kids and sternly tell the virus to “back off," adding, “You’re not welcome here.”

The “Not My Child” effort replaces the much-discussed “Did you Know?” campaign that began in 2015. That previous series of TV ads showed back-in-time age progressions of young adults with cancer and ended with their adolescent selves asking their parents whether they knew a vaccine could have prevented their diagnosis.

Those ads sparked media stories and debate over whether the ads were too tough on parents. A Washington Post article in 2016, for example, asked and answered, “Do the new Merck HPV ads guilt-trip parents or tell hard truths? Both.”

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Merck said it made the creative change because “it was time to bring consumers something new.”

The ads target parents of adolescents; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends children receive HPV vaccination at age 11 or 12.

“Summers are when a majority of wellness visits are scheduled as parents get their children ready for the back-to-school season. Our goal is to continue to help drive awareness among parents and encourage them to talk to their adolescent child’s doctor about the potential risk for certain HPV-related cancers later in life,” a Merck spokesperson said by email.

Merck’s HPV vaccines Gardasil and Gardasil 9 have been on a sales tear. Their global revenue of $1.1 billion in this year's first quarter marked an increase of 31% year over year. For 2019, Gardasil sales checked in at $3.74 billion, an increase of 19% year over year.

RELATED: After years of upward ticks, HPV vaccination rates still lag far behind U.S. goal

The CDC's latest data show HPV vaccination rates are increasing, with 49% of adolescents in the U.S. up to date in 2017 and 66% of kids between the ages of 13 and 17 having received the first dose of the vaccine series. Yet those figures still fall short of the CDC target of 80% vaccinated by 2020.

The “Not My Child” campaign will run on TV and in digital media, including online banners and video ads, as well as on Facebook and Instagram.