An unfortunate truth is that many people believe Alzheimer's is just a bit of memory loss when, in fact, it is a fatal disease for 47 million people worldwide. Every 66 seconds someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Yet it often remains out of the news and social media conversation unless someone famous dies from complications of Alzheimer's.
The Pure Imagination Project was a pro bono initiative by a team whose families had been affected by Alzheimer's and sought to bring widespread attention to the effects of this devastating disease, the need for imagination in finding a cure, and awareness of the Alzheimer's Association's efforts to imagine a world without Alzheimer's.
To raise awareness of the need for imagination to cure Alzheimer's disease, we were inspired by one of Alzheimer's best-known victims in one of his most iconic roles: Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka performing "Pure Imagination" in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Recognizing the urgency of the Alzheimer's Association's mission, the Gene Wilder Estate, Warner Brothers, and Universal Music Group gave permission to visually reimagine the classic 1971 film for the first time.
In a video PSA, distributed online and in social media, Gene Wilder sings "Pure Imagination" as the candy-filled world of Wonka's imagination disappears slowly piece by piece, then exponentially faster until there is nothing left, drawing a poignant parallel to the effects of Alzheimer's disease. A foreboding, yet inspiring message appears on screen: "Alzheimer's can steal your imagination piece by piece. But with your help, imagine how we can end it." Wilder then returns on screen, and the candy world quickly reappears to fill viewers with hope.
The Pure Imagination Project launched during National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month (U.S.) through an integrated digital, social media, and public relations effort. The video was shared via the Alzheimer's Association's website, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Teaser videos, image posts, and GIFs further promoted engagement on social media. Donated digital media and local chapter support broadened the campaign's reach. The video and social media posts drove to a dedicated campaign webpage that included information, inspiration, and ways to support the Alzheimer's Association. PR outreach, including an exclusive essay by Karen Wilder, further helped raise awareness.
The Pure Imagination Project struck a profound chord — increasing conversation about Alzheimer's using the #PureImagination, garnering over 2 million video views and 786.4 million media impressions worth $27.5 million in earned media.
By reimagining this popular scene with a surprisingly dark, yet hopeful twist, we were able to educate millions of people about the devastating effects of Alzheimer's disease while enabling Gene Wilder to continue inspiring all of us to believe that anything is possible with the power of imagination — including a world without Alzheimer's.
It also inspired Karen Wilder, Gene's widow, to get involved in the fight against Alzheimer's and pen an essay sharing her experience as Gene's caregiver during his battle with Alzheimer's. Regarding the Pure Imagination Project, Karen Wilder said, "When I saw this campaign, I knew that it brilliantly and beautifully captured all that Alzheimer's can take away, and my hope is that it will motivate people to learn more and to seek to change the course of this disease for future generations."
Perhaps it's no coincidence that Gene Wilder, as Willy Wonka, wore a purple coat and that purple is the color of the Alzheimer's movement.