Marius on Strategy and Communication

What it says on the tin

Cancer Vs. Cancer…That’s so 1960s

The newly released TVC for Gut Foundation aims to create awareness of bowl cancer. The ad compares the media attention received by bowel cancer victims to that of victims of terrorism and breast cancer. This is not a discussion of whether or not the message is important or the intentions justifes the use of disturbing images; the question is whether it is the best strategy.

Every organisation faces competition and The Gut Foundation is no exception; the fight against bowel cancer is also a fight for attention, most notably against breast-, skin- and prostate cancer. While we happily side with Nike against Puma and Pepsi against Coke, we don’t want to choose between terminal diseases; yet, this is exactly what this advertisement suggests we do.

The ad emphasizes that bowel cancer kills more people than breast cancer, implying that the latter receives a disproportionate amount of attention and reveals bitterness about being the less glamorous sister. This is no doubt frustrating and unfair, but one doesn’t win many supporters by making the viewers feel responsible for the situation.

It’s not a competition. And even if it is, it shouldn’t be made explicit for the target audience.

The film is intended to provoke controversy, and while the TVC itself will receive much attention, the hype is destined to be short lived; any immediate positive effect will be eliminated when considered in a long-term perspective.

John Singleton is the initiator of The Gut Foundation and the campaign, and with a slightly longer and more prosperous career than me to look back on, he may know a thing or two that I don’t. I do, however, still question his goal to simply attract as much attention as possible by screaming the loudest. How do they intend to sustain the attention? The Gut Foundation is up against some brilliant concepts (Pink Ribbon and Movember) and perhaps they should stop fighting them and join them instead. These are long-term strategies that have achieved a great level of involvement without resorting to shock tactics.

People today don’t get involved with an ad saying “Don’t die from bowel cancer”. It reveals a way of thinking prevalent in the 1960’s which today underestimate and consequently offends its audience.

12 people die every day from bowel cancer. Terror is no daily event, and if it happens on the scale dramatised in the film – 9/11 proportions – considerably more than 12 people will die. The comparison becomes contrived and it is obvious that they aim for some free airing on the 6 o’clock news to justify the production costs and congratulate each other for a successful campaign. The value of the free publicity will be calculated and constitute a fallacious proof for the success of the campaign.

Statistics isn’t an insight. Who has a concept of ‘12 people die every day’? How many children die of hunger every day, tens of thousands? Should media rather write about bowel cancer? Why exactly?

Not making the headlines every day is a destiny bowel cancer shares with hundreds of other phenomena; diseases; wars; famines and natural disaster, many of which are responsible for more lives. The strategy is thus neither unique, credible nor particularly relevant to bowel cancer.

A murder of one child receives a lot of attention; as does Australia versus England in cricket and Amy Winehouse’s rehabs. Media coverage is about news worthiness; it doesn’t correlate with peoples’ real sympathies, and is thus not the criteria by which we should judge the perceived importance of a cause.

Without trivializing people dying of cancer, it is safe to assume that few are interested in reading about it every day. Would you rather open the newspapers on any given day to read about yesterday’s cancer victims than the morning of September 12th 2001? A terrorist attack is sudden; violent; random; it is an attack on our society by fellow human beings; the complex causes and future consequences is cause for speculation and discussion; being enlightened on a range of social issues helps inform our personal opinions about religion and politics.

You can’t really have an opinion about cancer (“Everyone for, raise their hand”).

The target audience for this ad is the very audience who reads about terror and sports. While we may appreciate the paradox of our own media habits, I think they’re unlikely to change as a result of this advertisement. It is not fair, but it is the reality with which the organisation is faced and has to admit before developing the strategy.

The rationalization for using terrorism imagery is that the cause is too important to be “soft-cocked about” (Mr. Singleton’s words), but this seems to be an excuse not to conduct more research and find some slightly moreactionable insights.

Good intentions can also be difficult to argue against. The agency probably didn’t charge full price so who are we greedy people to criticize them?

For people to visit the doctor, we must understand why they don’t. People know smoking kills, but they still smoke. Humans aren’t always beings rational beings and Mr. Singleton should know this better than most.


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This entry was posted on May 24, 2013 by in Uncategorized.
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