An unfortunate truth is that many believe Alzheimer's is just memory loss when, in fact, it's a fatal disease for 47 million people worldwide. Every 66 seconds someone develops Alzheimer's. It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. Yet Alzheimer's often remains out of the news and social media conversation. 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 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.
Our goal was to create a video PSA that would engage the Alzheimer's Association's core audience of caregivers and advocates, but we also knew that to truly make a difference, we must increase awareness among those not yet affected by the disease or too young to think they need to care about it. We needed to touch people on an emotional level and inspire action by making it easier to understand the effects of Alzheimer's. As Willy Wonka, Gene Wilder has entertained generations of families worldwide, inspiring us to believe that anything is possible with the power of imagination.
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. As Gene Wilder sings "Pure Imagination" in the famous scene from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, 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 singing, "Come with me, and you'll be, in a world of pure imagination," as the candy quickly reappears and the chocolate factory comes back to life, filling viewers with hope and possibility.
The Pure Imagination Project launched during National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month (U.S.) via the Alzheimer's Association's website, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as public relations outreach. Launching on the Alzheimer's Association's social networks gave the video credibility and a support base for sharing to spread from. The video and social posts drove to a dedicated campaign webpage that included information, inspiration, and ways to support the Alzheimer's Association in their efforts to imagine a world without Alzheimer's.
The Pure Imagination Project made a profound difference, increasing conversation about Alzheimer's using the #PureImagination during National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month and the vital holiday giving season. Being a non-profit with limited ability to provide support, the initiative relied heavily on getting viewed and shared through owned and earned media. The Pure Imagination Project garnered 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 share 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.