Around the world, serial killers have been part of pop culture since the 1970s. They tend to attract round-the-clock coverage and become, at least momentarily, an object of both fear and fascination. So it’s no surprise that when News Corp Australia learned of a killer that was cutting down 51 Australians every day, the company moved quickly to provide comprehensive coverage.
In this case, the killer being tracked was heart disease. Working with the Heart Foundation, the news media company developed an innovative approach that tapped into the country’s fascination with true crime and created a compelling and effective campaign.
Putting the killer in the spotlight
Although heart disease continues to be a threat in Australia, many people remained unaware of just how deadly it is. Over the past five years, research showed that awareness of heart disease as the country’s biggest killer had fallen by more than half — even as the number of victims continued climbing.
News Corp Australia wanted to do more than just create awareness, however; the company wanted action. First, they wanted to apply enough pressure to the Australian government to get them to introduce Medicare-funded Heart Health Checks. This one act could save thousands of lives each year and was something the Heart Foundation had spent more than a decade advocating for.
Secondly, they wanted Australians to educate themselves about heart disease and learn how to reduce their risk. A key piece of the campaign was a Heart Age Calculator launched by the Heart Foundation. This online tool allowed users to input their information, learn about their heart disease risks and discover what the “true” age of their heart was.
The calculator also served as a way to encourage people to see their doctors for a Heart Health Check and it provided education about how they can reduce their personal risk by understanding their risk factors, the benefits of increased exercise, and the value of better nutrition.
The campaign, which launched in February 2019, needed to be edgy and frightening enough to catch the attention of all Australians: government officials, healthcare officials, and everyday people. News Corp Australia teased the story beforehand, promising a thorough investigation into the country’s most terrifying serial killer. Then, in a combination of print and online editorial and ad campaigns, they revealed that the culprit behind the horrifying statistics was heart disease.
Further capitalising on the true crime approach, they provided video interviews with police officers, survivors, family members of victims, and doctors who told compelling stories about how their lives had been changed when this killer entered their lives.
Shocking readers into action
One of the measures of the campaign’s success would be the use of the Heart Age Calculator, and before launching the campaign, News Corp Australia forecast a response rate of about 50,000 usages in the first year after launch.
However, the campaign had an immediate and overwhelming response, with more than 120,000 heart age calculations completed in the first two days and over 160,000 usages by the end of the first week. The first year response rate exceeded 1 million completed calculations.
The Australian government also sprang into action with unprecedented urgency; within the first week of the campaign it had promised to fund Heart Health Checks beginning April 1, 2019. The Heart Foundation estimated this one action would prevent more than 9,000 deaths from heart attack and stroke, as well as avoiding some 76,000 heart attacks over the next five years.
Doctors saw an increase in patient visits, with 70,000 Australians visiting their general practitioner using the Medicare benefit. More than 2.5 million people visited the Heart Foundation Web site during the campaign, which has generated 9.1 million page views to date — a 70% growth compared to the months before the campaign was launched.
The campaign successfully took on Australia’s worst serial killer, putting heart disease in the hot seat and, most of all, saving lives.