Dudnyk's Angelina Sciolla on Refreshing the Oncology Narrative

We know the words: hope, fight, battle, overcome. An oncology brand's position in the marketplace is often based on the kind of contest it initiates between cancer and the patient, between the disease and the data.

But the rules of engagement are changing as a result of multiple forces that include therapeutic innovation, cost competition, challenges to access, and patients who are increasingly self-empowered, either through education and their communities.

Amid the rallying cries and depiction of heroics, we see cancer through a lens of both hope and pragmatism. Yes, it's a battle, but maybe less of a cytotoxic bludgeoning and more of a strategic assault on multiple fronts from immunotherapies and new combinations that outsmart cancer cells enough to significantly improve survival. Think chess game rather than bare knuckle brawl. Science is still central to the story, but with more honest conversations about the disease, and evolving definitions of therapeutic success, it's time for us to revisit the narrative of oncology brands and of the disease itself. The following campaigns show signs of that evolution.

Campaign: Ladyballs
Company: Ovarian Cancer Canada
That is what they are, after all. Just on the inside. One of the sad realities in oncology is that ovarian cancer outcomes have not improved much in recent years. This recently launched awareness campaign brings attention to that by converting a famously male trope into a necessary call to action. The campaign also includes a video of women doing a number of ballsy things like winning at poker and disrupting a staff meeting with an opinion.

Campaign: Active Surveillance or Intervention
Company: Myriad Genetics
Prostate cancer is sometimes taken for granted because of the improvement in outcomes in recent years. But not every patient is the same and accurate risk assessment is crucial. The metaphor employed is familiar, but it is executed with a creepiness that sneaks up and jolts you out of a comfort zone to remind you that this “good cancer” can quickly get out of hand if not monitored properly.

Campaign: Still Waiting
Company: Eli Lilly
Agency: GSW
Shades of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button make this a curious and compelling disease awareness ad from Lilly that helps support the company's position in the non-small cell lung cancer space. At first glance, he's a cancer patient who deserves better. Then we see the boy who has aged well past his Henley shirt and khakis waiting for an advance in treatment, his scruffy Chuck Taylors about as old as Don Draper's first cancer-causing cigarette.

Campaign: Endangered Butts
Company: Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada
Agency: La Maison Ogilvy
It's just too easy to make colon jokes. The double entendres and cheeky headlines are plentiful. But imagine how much work it takes to get a butt to look that amazing. By virtue of its sheer creativity, this awareness campaign almost rehabilitates the reputation of the dreaded colonoscopy by conflating the beauty of an endangered species with the not-so-pretty vision of what might be lurking underneath.

Campaign: The First Step
Company: AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson (Imbruvica)
Agency: Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide
Drop the mic. A footprint on the moon telegraphs nearly everything a brand for rare leukemias would want to communicate —- innovation, courage, and one giant step towards better outcomes. The audacity of it conveys a simple, confident message. Let's be honest. It's a journal ad and it pays its dues to the clinical story as necessary. But it's also timely, now that the fight against cancer has been embraced as a national mission, or our “moon landing,” as President Obama noted.

Campaign: She Deserves It
Company: Cepheid
Advances in diagnostics are reshaping oncology care by providing early detection tools that deliver more precise results. Yet these innovations often get second billing to some new molecule that rewires a cell for apoptosis. I love the womanly pose that doubles as a silhouette of her reproductive anatomy. It adds both warmth and urgency to the story of a breakthrough tool that detects high-risk human papillomavirus DNA, a risk factor for cervical cancer.

Angelina Sciolla is an associate creative director at Dudnyk.