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Sore Throat Outbreak Monitoring System

Sore Throat Outbreak Monitoring System

About this initiative

How do you predict the unpredictable? This campaign brought together data analytics and programmatic digital media to deliver real-time insights into the spread of cold and flu across Australia in the winter of 2016. Tools and techniques that could prove helpful for responding to other preventable diseases.

The SDG 3 Good health and well-being focuses on the spread of communicable and preventable diseases like TB, HIV/Aids, malaria and neglected tropical diseases like zika and dengue fever. So why is there a case study around cold and flu – that’s not a focus for the United Nations surely? That’s true (although they can be annoying!) but the main focus of this case study is on the innovative use of data analytics and programmatic advertising to target audiences when they are suffering from symptoms.


The key challenge in health is to make sure that people recognise symptoms, take appropriate action - such as visiting a doctor - and follow the relevant procedures around medication. The biggest challenge for policy makers and health practitioners is: how do we get people to recognise their symptoms and take action? The key is to know when the symptoms appear and target people when it’s front-of-mind for them to resolve. These are useful approaches for tackling communicable diseases around the world.


Difflam needed to defend its number 1 market share position within pharmacies at a time of increased competition due to established rivals spending up to 3 times more in media and the rise of new category entrants with significant financial backing. But planning media for the cold and flu season is tricky due to the all-important season peak shifting significantly every year. Sore throat remedies are a distress purchase which means being top of mind when symptoms arise is critical to success. Vizeum had to develop a way of ensuring that advertising was live and reaching the right people exactly when sore throats occurred.


No available data sources accurately track incidence of sore-throat cases in Australia, making a development of a data-driven strategy difficult. Traditionally, planners used cold and flu data from previous years as a guide and hoped that historic patterns continued, which NEVER happens. Vizeum commissioned sister agency data2decsions to develop the Sore Throat Outbreak Monitoring System (STOMS), which used over 20 data sources to forecast incidences of sore-throat cases across each individual state in Australia. STOMS enabled a long term trend line of sore throats in Australia which allowed visibility and prediction of the season’s length of time and peak period. In addition, it allowed us to view short term changes in this long term trend line to have even greater accuracy in predicting sore throats for the week ahead.


Utilising STOMS, Vizeum worked with our DAN partners to develop agile plans in-line with sore-throat cases. STOMS’ accurate long-term forecasts enabled planning of less agile radio and OOH media (through Posterscope) with investment being allocated based on these trends. In the shorter term, using daily weather data, STOMS highlights expected short-term fluctuations in sore-throats, enabling Vizeum to work better with AMNET and Pocket Nation to allocate media by state, with investments reflecting anticipated short-term changes.

Not only did STOMS enable Difflam to maintain its pole position in pharmacies, Difflam’s brand sales actually increased by 3%, compared with 2015. This was a significant win for the brand in light of the historically ‘soft’ season, large spending competitors and new brands entering the market. Looking back, the model’s predictions had a correlation of over 80% with all sore throat product sales. This inspires confidence that STOMS’ can continue to play a central role in effective sore throat prediction and planning into the future.


You can see the power of being able to predict the unpredictable and how these tools and technologies can be very useful when applied to other areas of disease. It’s not for nothing that the campaign was shortlisted for the Marketing Science Ideas Xchange Clever Data Award!