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Setting the Record for Flu Immunization (And What It Has to Do With Marketing)

Highcrest Middle School in Wilmette, IL, is currently hoping to set a Guinness World Record. With 24 sets of twins enrolled in fifth grade, Highcrest is hoping to shatter the current world record: 16 sets of twins currently held by three different schools.

It’s the type of fun story that Guinness World Records is known for—the kind of diversion that’s entertaining to read between work emails. But the Guinness World Records also functions as a marketing vehicle; because it attracts attention and media, it’s also a venue through which brands or institutions can raise awareness around products or causes.

Managed care consortium Kaiser Permanente, for instance, began using Guinness World Records in October 2010, pursuing the first world record for vaccinations.

“The key message was immunization prevents flu and saves lives,” recalls Annie Russell, Kaiser’s chief administrative officer. “We rented Qualcomm Stadium [in San Diego] and created a vaccination center. We had a great response and that day, for a single location, we set a record of 213,000 vaccinations.”

Since then, Kaiser has continued to use Guinness World Records to raise awareness for health-related causes—gunning for world records around the most blood pressure readings, weigh-ins to test body mass index (BMI), and colon cancer screenings (can’t imagine that was one of the more popular ones), hand sanitizing, and eye tests. Kaiser has reached for records in both single locations (usually around San Diego) and multiple locations, which are different types of world records.

“This year we did a regional record and screened 7,652 people [for cancer],” Russell says. “We like to look at patients that are screened and see how many early cancers we can identify. This is motivating because if you detect a cancer that’s gratifying for anybody that’s involved.” Or, if not “gratifying” per se, detecting cancer is significantly better than the alternative.

Guinness World Records Business Development Manager Amanda Mochan estimates that the evolution of its marketing services happened a little less than 10 years ago when it noticed companies were approaching Guinness World Records asking for judges for events. Guinness World Records now provides different levels of service, from adjudication, logo licensing rights, and consultation (say a company wants to break a world record, but doesn’t know which one it should aim for).

Ultimately, the biggest hurdle for Kaiser and any brand that wants to use Guinness World Records as a means to market is logistical.

“What we do here is we act as an independent sports referee,” Mochan says. “We provide the list of guidelines that they have to follow. What is the counting method? How will you weigh this giant ice cream cone? We want to leave as little as possible to chance. It’s a lot of work, there’s a lot of planning and details that go into it.”

Which is why getting buy-in, like any other risky marketing endeavor, can be difficult initially. It was a challenge Kaiser’s Russell had to face. “Each event was a major event that involved the coordination with a lot of people,” she says. “I didn’t do it alone but had some wonderful leaders.”

Kaiser was also able to use its electronic health records (EHRs) to target specific segments of consumers—individuals who’d had recent skin cancer screenings, for instance, wouldn’t be invited to the Guinness World Records’s skin cancer screening record attempt.

“We have various types of registries,” Russell explains. “We have various ways we can take data and slice data and that helps us know who we need to outreach to.” Kaiser also used gift bags as incentives. On Pap Smear Day (which is probably low on the list of any woman’s favorite day), Kaiser reached out to the women who were due for their tests by offering them a pamper gift bag.  

For Russell, the benefits of targeting these world records for health initiatives are twofold: it gets patients who haven’t been tested to get tested. And, because it’s part of Guinness World Records, it raises awareness amid the general populace. “Getting the local media to come was huge,” Russell says. “The adjudicator wore the [Guinness World Records] blazer and that’s the photo-op the local media was looking for.”

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