Preventing an outbreak from becoming a crisis in the continental U.S.

CDC: Zika Domestic Readiness Initiative


By late winter 2016, it was clear that the Zika virus caused severe birth defects in newborn babies. Public health officials suspected it was only a matter of time before the Zika virus would arrive in the continental U.S. In anticipation of these outbreaks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hired Hager Sharp, as a subcontractor to Abt Associates, to amplify messaging around Zika prevention in high-risk areas and among high-risk audiences.


We approached strategic planning for the Zika initiative along two parallel paths. First, because the outbreak was already underway outside of the continental U.S., we immediately amplified existing CDC Zika-related content for CDC’s website, social media, and other channels. On a parallel path, we planned for the overarching domestic readiness initiative that included campaign branding and messaging that would motivate audiences to take preventive action steps. We implemented the campaign through a paid media buy that reached high-risk audiences in high-risk areas.


The campaign raised awareness of Zika prevention, reaching more than 26 million people. Most importantly, it changed behaviors: people who saw the ads were more likely to take preventive action than those who did not.

The campaignTogether Against Zikaeducated people on preventive actions and linked them to ensuring the health of our next generation.

To increase the flow of information about how to prevent Zika, Hager Sharp purchased digital, radio, print, and out-of-home ads across multiple markets, targeting audiences most likely to be at risk. The buys were customized to each market—including placing culturally adapted ads in languages like Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole—and launched quickly to ensure that residents received the vital public health information. For digital ads, we analyzed performance to identify optimizations that improved effectiveness and expanded reach.

Throughout the campaign, we used research to inform our actions, including exploratory research, audience testing, and ongoing analysis of paid media performance.