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From the 8th Annual Shorty Impact Awards

Doesn't Kill to Ask

Silver Honor in Social Movement Campaign


Northwell is the largest healthcare system in NYS. With 80K+ employees, we serve over 2MM New Yorkers each year; during the Pandemic, we treated more COVID patients than any other provider in the US. And yet as a relatively new brand amid hoary competitors like Mt. Sinai and Columbia Presbyterian, we often don’t get the recognition we deserve. The healthcare marketing landscape is littered with #1 claims and images of exceedingly good-looking doctors in empathic consultations with hopeful patients. How should we break through this clutter?

We saw an opportunity to lead with our purpose: to activate Raise Health in a direct way that could set us apart as a leader in the region. Northwell has not been shy about calling out the societal ills that drive many of our healthcare issues, and a key focus has been gun violence. In 2021, guns became the leading cause of death for kids, outstripping car accidents for the first time. And we’re on the front lines of this crisis every day: we had to act. As CMO, Ramon Soto, explained:

“We literally pull bullets out of babies. This is a national healthcare epidemic that doesn’t seem rational. We have the equivalent of a mass shooting – 13 kids killed – everyday. So how do we create a safer environment?”


- Differentiate the brand from our formidable competitors

- Establish our purpose-driven leadership in dangerous times

- Persuade New Yorkers to join us in reducing gun violence

Strategy and Execution

Phase 1: Clinical foundations

The core of our clinical approach is "universal screening," which has already been successful in stigmatized areas like substance abuse and STDs. It means that we incorporate the same questions to assess risk for every patient who walks in, regardless of the reason for their visit. For gun violence prevention, we screen for access to an unlocked gun in the home. If the answer is yes, we provide free gun-locks and social support of various kinds. We cannot share results of our innovative screening trials, but early data has been promising.

Establishing a healthcare lane would be critical on this hyper-polarized issue, so we set our sights on persuading people to ask about access to unlocked guns in other people's homes -- particularly parents, who often send their kids to play elsewhere.


Phase 2: Consumer intelligence

To hone our strategy with consumers, we conducted original research to understand:

1) How many US parents may already have asked other parents about access to unlocked guns;

2) How many would want to know the answer; and

3) If they would mind being asked this question by another parent

We found:

1) Less than a third of parents have asked this question;

2) 90% of parents would want to know if there was an unlocked gun where their kid was about to visit

3) 97% of parents would be fine answering this question, if another parent asked them

From a messaging standpoint, the key was to take an empowering approach vs. shocking or saddening people. We wanted to appeal to parents directly, but chose a surprising analogy to capture people's attention. And we committed to sharing practical "ways in" for starting this awkward conversation, on our website. And with that, our "Doesn't kill to ask" movement was born.

On TV, we broke through the clutter:

We draw viewers into a surprising “drop-off” conversation about a pet tiger, and model “asking” in a memorable, relatable way. Our closing thought – “Doesn’t Kill to Ask” – adds urgency to the message: asking may be awkward, but it just might save a life.

On our site, we provided practical "ways in" for starting this conversation:

E.g.,“Our pediatrician mentioned that guns are now the leading cause of death for kids, and urged us to ask others if there are any unlocked guns in the house”

In OOH and social, we got straight to the point

Using the new stat to claim eyeballs and stop thumbs, we delivered the staggering news about kids, followed immediately by our solution.

And then we went national:

With early positive results in NY, we aimed to turn our simple, practical intervention into “freeware.” So we partnered with 176 other health systems in 48 states – systems that, in another context, might be competitors. But with this purpose-driven effort, collaboration was key. We quickly assembled a toolkit of creative assets that partner systems could adapt in a turnkey way for use in their own footprints, with their own branding.


We launched in September 2022, and are thrilled with results. Per our objectives:

Differentiate the brand from our formidable competitors

The campaign broke Northwell’s norms across 

– Uniqueness

– Differentiation

– Memorability

– “Will get people talking”

Impressive lifts in brand consideration (while our competitive set was flat):

-- Exposed to TV alone: +8%

-- Exposed to the full campaign: +25%

-- “Likelihood to recommend:” +26%

Establish our purpose-driven leadership in dangerous times:

We achieved double-digit gains for Northwell’s brand leadership:

-- “NW is a leader is reframing gun violence as a healthcare issue:” +29%
-- “NW provides tools and resources to improve gun safety in my community:” +30%
-- “NW motivates me to take action to prevent and reduce gun violence in my community:” +26%

Persuade New Yorkers to join us in reducing gun violence

We started a movement for positive change:

– Those exposed to the campaign are 2.5x more likely to ask about an unlocked gun vs. those unexposed.  We dearly hope that many young lives will be saved as a result.

And momentum continues to build 

Pop stars Aly & AJ approached us to ask if they could help amplify our message on their current US tour. Working with their team, we developed a pledge that audience members can take on their phones during each show; launched this spring, pledges are already in the thousands and gaining steam with each tour stop. When our cause starts to become part of the culture, we know we've succeeded.


Video for Doesn't Kill to Ask

Entrant Company / Organization Name

StrawberryFrog, Northwell Health


Entry Credits