Moral conundrums

The Good Scare

Since 2006, Brado and Merck have collaborated on a myriad of strategic insight research efforts for a variety of complex medications, indications, and conditions. The Gardasil launch, though, may have been the apex for both complexity and controversy.


  • Merck | Gardasil®

Brado’s Role

  • Qualitative Insight
  • Journey Mapping
  • Brand Positioning
  • Strategic Planning
  • Campaign Optimization
  • Identity Refresh
  • Website Optimization

Let’s (Not) Talk About Sex

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease. Gardasil is a vaccine which prevents the most common HPV strains that cause cancers. It’s recommended for boys and girls as young as 11. Therein lies the challenge: pediatricians recommend the vaccine, but parents can defer, delay, or refuse it – leaving many youths at risk.

Merck needed to understand the conundrum between parents’ personal values (e.g., “I don’t want to think about my child having sex!”) and their perceptions of vaccines.

The uncomfortable part? Ultimately, Merck would be asking parents to vaccinate their young protect them from an STD.

A Taboo Breakthrough

As a Brado Research Lead said, “The parental attitudes were confusing and confounding – before the research we didn’t understand how parents could NOT vaccinate their child. Then, we uncovered why. It was eye-opening!” Brado’s breakthrough insight was tagged “The Good Scare.”

What Brado and Merck discovered was parents would ignore an idea if there wasn’t enough “scare,” but would completely reject an idea that felt manipulative. In short, there needed to be just enough scare to cause parents to engage.

Just enough scare was what made the issue personal and motivating. An by personalizing the repercussions of not getting vaccinated, parents' fear of the unknown was ratcheted up, and there was a clear realization that the disease was scarier than the vaccine.

Acceptance. Understanding. And Some Branding.

As a result of our collaboration with Merck, the HPV vaccine is now widely accepted as a “common” vaccine to get early in a child’s lifetime.

Part of that acceptance was the result of Brado helping to optimize the Gardasil website so parents could get clear information and understand exactly what they were being asked to do. This effort also included logo and color palette explorations, and, most important, the impact any of these optimizations would have on the brand.

When the Gardasil indication expanded to include boys—specifically, protecting boys from anal cancer (a far more sensitive topic)—Merck tapped Brado to grasp the most compelling way to move forward with clarity and compassion.