‘The Battle Inside’ is an all-out digital project that combines gaming, social influencer, live stream, edutainment, mobile and activation opportunities that have been maturing for years, but in a way in which nobody had seen the potential of before. With an aim to raise awareness and funds for research on leukaemia, a disease more cruel to the younger population, Cheil Spain made a mod for the game DOOM ETERNAL to create a battlefield inside the body of a leukaemia patient fighting viruses, fungi, and bacteria until they are defeated.
Combining game development with the landscape of social influencers that exists around gaming today, it was a pioneering piece of communications that Cheil Spain executive creative director Alejadro Di Trolio learned valuable lessons from. Months on from the project’s launch, he spoke to LBB’s Alex Reeves about what it means for the future of health and wellness communications.
LBB> Right at the beginning of the project, what led you to the gaming space and the world of streamers? At first glance it seems an unusual fit for a topic like leukaemia.
Alejandro> We have seen how most of the campaigns we see about Leukaemia ignore their main target audience: gen z. That's why we decided to create an idea that would focus on one of the main interests of young people, gaming. In this way we would be able to generate a link not only to raise awareness but also to create empathy and understanding that would help unlock donations in this very specific target.
LBB> Lots of big brands have been showing up in the Metaverse or experimenting with games like Fortnite – but I would imagine that it’s less familiar territory for the medical and charity fields. What sort of questions or concerns did the clients at the CRIS Cancer Foundation have and how did you help them navigate this space?
Alejandro> Gaming and the medical sector rarely manage to create initiatives together in part due to the many regulations that organisations that work with patients have. The pharma sector knows this very well. That is why we decided to create an idea 100% developed in Doom (one of the most played games in history) with the help of doctors from the CRIS Cancer Foundation who not only had deep knowledge of the disease, but were also gamers. The collaboration with them was very deep and we were able to feed each other in the search for solutions for the development of the story and characters.
LBB> How did you identify Doom as a title that you wanted to work with? Was there something about the game itself or perhaps the community that engages with the game that made it strategically a good fit?
Alejandro> Strategically Doom was perfect because it is a legendary and intergenerational game that connects gen x, millennials and gen z in a classic game that evolves from year to year. It is a game that allowed us to have a strong bond with parents and children alike since both generations have spent hours playing the game and know the story - a ‘bloody’ battle that’s just like the battle inside the body of a leukaemia patient. That is why modifying Doom to replicate the battle of leukaemia, reflecting the hell that the young people who suffer from the disease go through and finding a collaborative solution was the objective.
LBB> How did you go about figuring out which influencers and streamers you wanted to work with?
Alejandro> The case of influencers was more difficult than we thought since we were looking for profiles that were benchmarks in the world of Doom, not only to help us improve the first versions of the game with their extensive background, but also to generate the power of influencers in niche audiences. And provide amplification to more generic gamers. The first phase with the Doom experts was to create the challenge about how hard it was to overcome a Doom mod that recreated leukaemia. With them as experts, the hype began and many other influencers joined not only the challenge of overcoming one of the most difficult Doom challenges but with their followers watching on Twitch where they could donate via mobile.
LBB> And once they were onboard, what sort of conversations did you have with them around allowing them to do their thing while also being mindful of the sensitivities around the topic?
Alejandro> We wanted the influencers to become the first to experience the harshness of the disease in the first person, that is why we created a free dynamic where they faced the different stages of the disease with the least knowledge of it, so that in their streams they transmitted and amplified the hard feeling of leukaemia.
LBB> And given the nature of streaming, it’s pretty spontaneous and live and conversational – I’m curious about what unexpected conversations or engagement you saw unfold during the event?
Alejandro> One of the most recurrent phrases was, "Die cancer" because being in such an immersive world, cancer cells became a common enemy for all. It stopped being a game to become something more personal because for the first time leukaemia had a face. Another that was great was the number of times people said they wished they’d learned at school in this way – it was rewarding to see how powerful the immersive edutainment we created was for our audience.
LBB> In terms of engagement and impact, how did this campaign perform?
Alejandro> We reached more than 30 hours of streaming, an audience of 100 million, €1 million in earned media and more than an 80% increase in gen-z support for the CRIS Cancer Foundation. But the most important thing for us is that for the first time gen z have discovered what leukaemia is all about and they continue the conversation on social media.
LBB> Which content creators and streamers have played the mod and what sort of reaction have their audiences had?
Alejandro> We collaborated with the most important influencers in Spain including iTownGamePlay [https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKmlxQVs0vHtaLldRIQ8lsA] , Ray Bacon [https://www.twitch.tv/epicraybacon/about] , Gladoop https://www.twitch.tv/gladoop , MondoXbox https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-6q_L7XtLFJtGqaNy6Gc8Q , etc. all with an average of 10 million followers, each one of them getting the audience to be part of the experience, not only by participating through donations but also because they helped through messages and audios to the streamers to complete the mission of defeating cancer in real time.
LBB> The campaign had a huge pick up across the medical press, I understand. What is it about the project that made it resonate so strongly with this sector?
Alejandro> The innovativeness of the approach we used. Many medical magazines emphasised the power of the gaming world as part of the virilization of a solution. Another remarkable element for the medical world was the development (supported by medical experts) of the stages and the visual characterisation of the demons (characters of the game) in cancer cells, bacteria and fungi, since they allowed us to make a clear and realistic metaphor of how cruel and overwhelming the disease is.
LBB> How did working on this project and for a client like the CRIS Cancer Foundation give you a fresh perspective on what influencers can do?
Alejandro> The influencers served as an element of amplification, engagement and credibility for a public so rarely open to listening to traditional media messages. The role of the influencers was to translate the cruelty of the disease through games in a new way for an audience accustomed to much stronger and more immersive impacts than what is offered by traditional media such as television, radio or the press. An approach that influences engagement way beyond usual direct response approaches.
LBB> More generally, what advice would you have for marketers in the healthcare and wellness space who are intrigued by the worlds of gaming and influencer marketing but who are perhaps a bit nervous?
Alejandro> My biggest advice would be that you do not stop with a first "no", during the development of a gaming idea there are many obstacles. Both the development of the video game and copyright are the most complicated, but not impossible. My advice is, if you have a good idea for a gaming mod, try to look for alternatives but never give up on the first refusals – they are long projects, with many players and most importantly, where almost everything is new to the world of marketing.
The Battle Inside took almost one year of development and many profiles to achieve it, but when you see it finished and realise the support for a cause as important as leukaemia, you realise that it is worth every minute you dedicated to creating it. If you also have a gaming idea linked to a social purpose, bet on it – it will not be easy but it will have been worth it.
LBB> How do you think combining digital thinking and influencer marketing can change and challenge the norms of health and wellness marketing?
Alejandro> The power of digital platforms means that any idea can be amplified in a way that until a few years ago was science fiction, now the immediacy and power of prescription by influencers means that anyone can access a message through an influencer and make it his own, complete it and even improve it. The world of mods is an example of this phenomenon. You can now not only bring an idea to life in a game, but also alter history like a blank canvas and make everyone who wants to participate complete it. It's incredible but real and it's within the reach of any agency, it's just a matter of wanting to try it.