On September 21st, something happened on Facebook. People found their Facebook timelines empty. And when they checked the timelines of their friends, they were empty as well. Malfunction? Censorship? It was all part of a viral Alzheimer’s awareness campaign from Ogilvy Brussels that just won a European Excellence Award in the Social Media category.
How did it all begin? One year before our campaign, Facebook introduced Timeline as the new Profile Page, encouraging users to post more photos and events about their past. It confirmed a digital evolution: we are increasingly outsourcing our lives to the cloud. That gave us an idea for our client Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI).
To mark September 21st — World Alzheimer’s Day 2012 — we simply decided to erase the memories of the whole world. How? By asking people to donate their Facebook timelines. After all, we frequently ask people to donate money or time to support a cause. Why not ask them to donate their memories to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease?
So, we created a minisite with a simple activation: “Donate Your Facebook Timeline”. All people had to do, was to install an app in order to experience what Alzheimer’s patients endure. This app lay dormant until September 21, wiping out users’ years of memories from their timelines: pictures, videos, conversations and friends forjust one day. There remained only the following message on their Facebook Cover photos: “Imagine your life without memories. For 36 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease, this is reality.”
With no budget for promotion, we relied on word of mouth and crafted an emotional short video to get the attention of online influencers who would spread the campaign. And it worked.
Our actions quickly achieved high engagement with social media, mostly through Facebook and Twitter. In just the few days leading up to World Alzheimer’s Day 2012, we had 22,000 website visits from people of whom 75% downloaded the app or shared the message. It also generated astonishing press coverage. From Adweek to Mashable, more than 200 websites and blogs around the world talked about our campaign. Furthermore, national TV and radio stations gave us free airtime. In only three days, we reached more than 1 million people in +150 countries.
Though “Donate Your Facebook Timeline” did achieved a massive success, the challenge was rather daunting at first. We had no time, no media budget, and we had to reach the maximum of people informing them about a disease that impacts millions of older people on a medium traditionally used by the younger generations. But Facebook turned out to be the most effective choice because, maybe for the first time, people experienced with their own memories how an Alzheimer’s patient feels.
Ultimately, our campaign became the biggest activation for our client in the world, resulting in a new assignment for 2013.