MRM, New York / CIGNA / 2021
In 2020, the United States faced a healthcare emergency. COVID-19 was killing Black Americans at twice the rate of white Americans. Yet, despite Cigna’s free COVID care, Black customers did not trust the healthcare system. Why? If you know American History, you know that Black Americans have good reason to be distrustful. In 1783, Black people were subject to medical experiments during the The Tuskegee Study; hundreds of Black men were intentionally infected with syphilis and denied treatment. Then in 1951, scientists took the cells of Henrietta Lacks (a Black woman who died of cervical cancer at 31) without her consent and shared them with firms that created profitable new drugs used the world over. They gave away her identity and even published her genome. Given this history of exploitation, how could we break through centuries of distrust to reach the community that needed help the most?
While Black Americans may have little faith in the healthcare system, there is no shortage of religious faith. So instead of using doctors to deliver the message, we turned to Black pastors, community pillars of trust and influence, and created The Pastor Alliance, the first-ever partnership between a healthcare company and Black churches.
To break through centuries of distrust we knew traditional media would not work, and in order to gain trust it was important to call on the most trusted institutions in the Black community, Black churches.To reach our audience, we identified regions with the highest concentration of Black Cigna members in Houston, South Florida and Memphis. Then, during a nation-wide lock down, we reached those congregations through virtual church services on Facebook Live and YouTube.
To deliver the message, we powered past centuries of distrust to reach the Black community. While there may be no trust in the system, there is no shortage of faith. We turned to Black churches, a beacon of trust in communities, creating The Pastor Alliance, the first-ever partnership between a healthcare company and Black churches. We identified areas with the highest concentration of Cigna members and, despite a nationwide lockdown, reached those congregations through live social channels and virtual services. We enlisted faith messengers like Earvin “Magic” Johnson, survivor of the AIDs pandemic, to raise awareness and tell his story of lifesaving preventive care, drawing parallels between Covid-19 and the 1990’s AIDS pandemic. We broke through, bringing free Covid-19 care into church backyards, vaccinating those who were historically hesitant. Despite culture wars over separation of church and state, we moved past a political moment to create a people movement.
We reached almost 6 million at-risk Black customers across three key markets. The Pastor Alliance helped break through to people historically hesitant to get vaccinated. By the end of our month-long campaign, we had exceeded our goal. With +5.8 million people reached, and with the majority of our target customers contacting Cigna, we saw a ten-fold increase in engagement, from 5% to 55%.