Sex Degrees of Separation
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Sex Degrees of Separation

Holmes Report

‘Sex sells’ as the old adage has it, but for Citigate Dewe Rogerson (CDR) the rather less appealing task was to sell sexual health tests. The incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) has increased dramatically in the UK over the past decade. Most types of STI have seen increases but the incidence of Chlamydia in particular has risen very sharply. Public education campaigns have not stemmed the tide. Research shows that people are reluctant to go for sexual health tests because of the inconvenience and embarrassment involved.

Lloydspharmacy, the largest community pharmacy chain in the UK, spotted an opportunity to offer people a safe, reliable and simple solution – an online sexual health testing service. Simply fill in a questionnaire online and Lloyds will send vials through the post; the customer then sends urine and saliva samples to a laboratory and they find out the results within a day or two. If treatment is required, this is dispensed at no extra charge.


The task for CDR was simple – promote this new service.

The media is always interested in sex and indeed in sexual health. But whilst the new Lloydspharmacy service had a good story to tell in terms of its clinical soundness, it was not a breakthrough innovation. At least four other services had already been established. Hence the embedded editorial appeal of the new service was limited.

CDR advised the client not to set it the task of generating editorial exposure for the new service. Rather our counsel was to use PR to drive consumers to the online service, engaging social media and online editorial channels as well as print and broadcast media.


Despite countless public health campaigns, millions of people – especially young people – do not have an informed understanding of the risks they are taking when having unprotected sex outside a stable relationship. Simply stating the facts does not have the desired effect.

By tapping into this ignorance about risk we saw an opportunity to create a debate within the media and online, and in so doing direct people to Lloydspharmacy’s new service.


 So our strategic recommendation was to build a platform around risk awareness, inviting sexually active people to confront their ignorance, so generating media capital and online content which would drive people online to learn about Lloydspharmacy’s new service. 

Creative platform


We’ve all heard of Six Degrees of Separation, the theory which states that no one person is more than six steps removed from another. To promote its new online sexual health service, CDR developed Sex Degrees of Separation – an online calculator which allows people to work out how many indirect sexual partners they have had. Six thousand people were asked to reveal details of their sexual history, so creating a robust database which would sit at the heart of the online tool.

When people enter the age range of each partner, the calculator raids its database to work out how many previous sexual partners people within that age range have had on average. It then repeats this process for five further ‘generations’ of partner. This is added together to give a Sex Degrees of Separation total. Using the tool it was possible to calculate that the typical British adult has slept indirectly with 2,811,024 people. Indeed this finding provided the initial news peg for our campaign.

But of course the real attraction for individuals is to work out how many people they had slept with indirectly. 


Sex Degrees of Separation is by some distance the most successful PR campaign ever conducted by Lloydspharmacy.


·        The online tool has generated more than 1,289,000 Page Views

·        In the four weeks following the Sex Degrees launch – compared with the four weeks prior - traffic to the Lloydspharmacy website was up 44% and sales of Online Doctor services increased by 21%.

·        Coverage was achieved in seven national newspapers, including a double page spread in The Sun; it was also covered extensively online by the nationals (almost all of whom directed readers to the calculator) and received huge amounts of regional coverage. Several broadcasters picked up the story including BBC Radio Five Live. Dozens of websites ran the story, including many consumer magazine sites such as Marie Claire and portals such as MSN and Virgin Media who, again, invariably linked to the calculator

·        Media coverage was universally positive and messages about the socially responsible nature of the exercise were consistently conveyed

·        The number of mentions on blogs, forums and groups is so great it can’t properly be captured

·        Based on coverage received through our media monitoring service, to date, the campaign reached 17,577,780 people (circulation) and generated an advertising value equivalent of £136,617. The investment was approximately £10,000


Sex Degrees of Separation is one of a number of PR activities designed to promote Lloydspharmacy’s Online Doctor service implemented during 2009. Collectively they have contributed to a doubling of online revenue year on year.

The campaign represented something of a departure in the way we think about public relations. Rather than endeavour to seed commercial messages directly into editorial we were more concerned with delivering as much traffic as possible to the website where we could engage directly with consumers. This marriage of traditional PR, social media and e-Commerce is certainly unusual and possibly a first in the OTC arena.

Jayne Ilic, Head of PR and Communications, for Lloydspharmacy said: "Sex Degrees of Separation was a breakthrough campaign for us because it showed how PR can drive sales as well as build brand equity. It was a terrific marriage of online and offline communication. The campaign was something of a risk for a business like Lloydspharmacy which has a reputation for clinical excellence to protect, but careful media and stakeholder management ensured that the important sexual health messages behind the calculator were not lost. The campaign played an important role internally too, by elevating the role of public relations within the business."

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