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Open Access Research article

Using online adverts to increase the uptake of cervical screening amongst “real Eastenders”: an opportunistic controlled trial

Ray B Jones1*, Mar Soler-Lopez2, Daniel Zahra3, Judith Shankleman2 and Esther Trenchard-Mabere2

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Health, Plymouth University, 3 Portland Villas, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK

2 NHS East London and the City, Tower, Hamlets Public Health, 4th Floor, Aneurin Bevan House, 81, Commercial Road, London, E1 1RD, UK

3 Department of Psychology, Plymouth University, Portland Square, Plymouth, Pl4 8AA, UK

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BMC Research Notes 2013, 6:117  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-6-117

Published: 26 March 2013



Cervical screening uptake has increased as a result of occurrences of cervical cancer in TV ‘soap operas’ and in real life celebrities such as Jade Goody. Media analysis at the time of Jade Goody’s death suggested the NHS did not take sufficient advantage of this opportunity to improve cervical screening rates. Google AdWords has been used to recruit and raise awareness of health but we were not aware of its use to supplement media events.


This was an opportunistic service evaluation to accompany a cervical cancer storyline in Eastenders (a TV ‘soap opera’). We ran an AdWords campaign based on keywords such as ‘Eastenders’, and ‘cervical cancer’ in a one mile radius in East London, linked to one webpage giving details of 10 practices and other links on cervical cancer. We recorded costs of adverts and setting up the webpage. We used routine statistics from Tower Hamlets, City and Hackney, and Newham Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) of the number of smears, eligible populations, and coverage by practice by month from September 2010 to January 2012 to compare the ten intervention practices with controls.


Eight people per day in the target area viewed the project webpage. The cost of setting up the website and running Google AdWords was £1320 or £1.88 per person viewing the webpage. Unlike Jade Goody’s death, there was no major impact from the Eastenders’ storyline on Google searches for cervical cancer. There was considerable monthly variation in the number of smear tests in the 3 PCTs. The AdWords campaign may have had some effect on smear rates but this showed, at best, a marginal statistical difference. Assuming a ‘real’ effect, the intervention may have resulted in 110 ‘extra’ women being screened but there was no change in coverage.


Although the Eastenders storyline seemed to have no effect on interest in cervical cancer or screening, the AdWords campaign may have had some effect. Given the small scale exploratory nature of the study this was not statistically significant but the relatively modest cost of advertising suggests a larger study may be worthwhile. An outline of a possible study is described.

Cervical screening; Online advertising; Media; Television drama