Category A02. Healthcare
Idea Creation ÅKESTAM HOLST Stockholm, SWEDEN
Media Placement ÅKESTAM HOLST Stockholm, SWEDEN
Production BKRY Stockholm, SWEDEN
Post Production BKRY Stockholm, SWEDEN
Name Company Position
Martin Noreby Åkestam Holst NoA Art Director
Simon Lublin Åkestam Holst NoA Copywriter
Joakim Khoury Åkestam Holst NoA Art Director
Rickard Beskow Åkestam Holst NoA Copywriter
Michal Sitkiewicz Åkestam Holst NoA Art Director
Magnus Jakobsson Åkestam Holst NoA Creative Director
Lina Engler Åkestam Holst NoA Account Director
Linda Bryttmar Åkestam Holst NoA Account Manager
Jennie Strinnhed Åkestam Holst NoA Account Manager
Karl Wikström Åkestam Holst NoA Strategist
Digge Zetterberg Odh NoA PR Director

Why is this work relevant for Media?

A Hard Pill To Swallow broke new ground by turning polluted water into a new type of medicine, and helped change the debate and the laws in an entire country - and potentially the world. Pharma polluted water was, for the first time ever, turned into a piece of medicine highlighting all that is bad with dirty pharmaceuticals. By using this groundbreaking medicine as our main non-traditional media, while supporting with traditional advertising, we managed to get Swedes to talk about environmentally friendly pharmaceuticals, and politicians to change laws.


Hyderabad in India is the world’s biggest manufacturing site for medicine. More than 50% of India’s global exports of medicine are produced here, and make up the major share of medicine imported to the US, Europe and Sweden – our home market. But due to lack of environmental oversight, many factories in Hyderabad still dump their waste straight into nature. This means the medicine we take for our health in Sweden and other wealthy countries is actively making people sick and polluting the environment in parts of the world struggling with bigger inequalities. Apotek Hjärtat, Sweden’s biggest privately owned pharmacy, has been working actively with sustainability since the start in 2010. In 2019 we decided to do our part in making pharmaceuticals more sustainable, and make sure the medicine we sell doesn’t harm others, even though it meant going against our own industry.

Describe the creative idea / insights (30% of vote)

We collected 100 liters of water near the pharmaceutical factories in Hyderabad. In collaboration with Sweden’s most outstanding laboratories, RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden), we then analyzed the water and extracted the active substances, resulting in a completely new kind of medicine: Sordidum Pharmacum - a deadly cocktail extracted from pharma polluted water. The new ”medicine” was used in an integrated campaign (print, TVC, OOH, SoMe) that aimed to open the eyes of the general public in order to put pressure on politicians in Sweden and the EU. We sent the pills to politicians together with a medication package insert that states what we found in the water, what the effects are, and what we wanted to be done; adding sustainability criteria in the procurement of pharmaceuticals on a nationwide level. We also invited all Swedish pharmacies to join us in launching the world’s first label for sustainable pharmaceuticals.

Describe the strategy (20% of vote)

The problem with pharmaceutical factories who are polluting the environment is something the public is unaware of. Therefore, politicians aren’t encouraged to act. That’s why we created a new kind of medicines with all the active substances found in the water around the factories. We used the new medicine in an integrated campaign where we published open letters to politicians in Sweden’s biggest newspaper, sent the medicine as direct mail to politicians, It was also sent as direct mail to politicians. As we highlighted the problem, the public got outraged over the fact that the medicine that is making them healthy are causing huge problems when being produced. This made politicians more eager to propose new stricter laws.

Describe the execution (20% of vote)

The water was collected from the vicinity of pharmaceutical factories in the summer of 2019. After that, RISE performed examinations and extractions during August and September. The result was 60 grams of extracted substances that were turned into Sordidum Pharmacum pills. The pills were shown at our pharmacies, sent to politicians and used in all our activities. On our website we informed the public on the issues and result of not having a sustainability criteria when procuring pharmaceuticals. On the website they could also download the official lab report from RISE and find out how they could influence the politicians to act. We spread the initiative via long and short films, various print ads aimed at politicians and the public in Sweden’s largest newspapers and through traditional PR. In addition, we invited all of our competitors to join in launching a sustainability label based on our precursor “Follow Your Heart”.

List the results (30% of vote)

The campaign received heavy coverage in Swedish news, was seen by 1/3 of the population, drove 1 in 10 Swedes to visit the campaign site and generated 10 000 downloads of the report. Back in India, it was covered by the world’s second largest English newspaper - The Times of India. But more importantly, it changed things. The campaign led to all major Swedish pharmacies launching a shared label for sustainable pharmaceuticals, based on Apotek Hjärtats original label. Two of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies have contacted Apotek Hjärtat to see what they need to change to receive the label. A new law will soon be passed in Swedish parliament demanding stricter environmental criteria when procuring pharmaceuticals. By turning pollution into a pill we made the problem real enough for people to react and politicians to act, and revealed the problems hidden under the surface of the pharmaceutical world.