Non-profit behind Free Killer Tan wants parents to practice sun safety

In the U.S., melanoma claims 10,000 lives every year and one person every 57 minutes. These statistics were brought to attention in the chilling 2015 award-winning social media campaign, Free Killer Tan, whose YouTube video featuring a casket tanning bed garnered more than a million views.

The same advocacy group behind the campaign, melanoma awareness and education organization Mollie's Fund, has followed that hard-hitting effort with a PSA that plays on parents' fear of over-exposing their kids to the sun's rays. It's part of a new campaign called Mr. Sun, explained Elliot Langerman, SVP and creative director at Area 23, which again partnered with Mollie's Fund on the 2016 effort.

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“The Mr. Sun campaign has just gone live, in anticipation of summer officially beginning,” Langerman said. “With UV levels rising to their yearly peak and children spending more time outdoors, we felt it important to get the word out now.”

The campaign, which launched earlier this month, conveys the grueling progression of melanoma in a teenage girl from the moment she sprawls out on the beach to the moment she passes away, and it is shown entirely in reverse. The video opens with the actress—who actually shaved her head for the part—lying face up in her hospital bed and ends with her lying face up on her towel, innocently basking in the sun.

Most kids spend an exorbitant amount of time playing outdoors, which is why children under the age of 15 years old are particularly at risk for developing melanoma. The startling statistic that just five sunburns can increase anyone's risk of melanoma by 80% is what initially inspired this PSA, according to a statement from FCB, which owns Area 23.

Maggie and Jack Biggane, the founders of Mollie's Fund, believe that “viewing a disruptive PSA like Mr. Sun challenges the public to consider what might be a fatal result of careless habits,” they said in an email.

They hope it elicits as much fame as Free Killer Tan, whose video drew widespread praise for the startling way it conveys the dangers of melanoma to viewers. The video opens with a group of people handing out coupons for free tans amid the hustle and bustle of a New York City street corner. Excitement turns to terror when the oblivious pedestrians arrive at what they think is a tanning salon and instead find themselves attending their own mock funerals. A tanning bed made to resemble a casket sits at the front of the room surrounded by flower arrangements, and several church pews are occupied by silent, somber people.

Free Killer Tan won multiple awards at more than eight different events last year, each award recognizing the unique tactic and innovative style that give the video its edge. It also drew more than one million Facebook viewers. More than 90% of the Facebook and YouTube viewers were in the target demographic, and thousands of young adults made proclamations on Facebook to never tan again.

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Both Mr. Sun and Free Killer Tan prompt viewers to consider the extreme risks of melanoma and how easily avoidable the illness is simply by practicing better sun safety. The “shock” approach used in Free Killer Tan was aimed to reach a target audience of girls ages 18 to 24 years old, whereas the Mr. Sun video “mixes the real and surreal,” said director Kasra Farahani of Chromista, targeting young parents with kids age 15 and under.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to creating behavior change,” said Langerman. Encouraging healthy changes in behavior is ultimately the main purpose of both Mollie's Fund campaigns. “You have to meet your audience where they are. For parents, it's about emotion—reminding them of their child's innocence and invoking their natural desire to preserve it. This drove our approach on every level.”

Although the exact budget of this campaign was undisclosed, it was fairly small, according to Langerman. Chromista, the creative content company co-founded by Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky, handled production. Also on board were PS260 and Barking Owl, two other media groups in charge of editing and sound.

“In every case,” Langerman noted, “these partners were incredibly generous with their time, often working for free or at cost, simply because they believed in the cause and the material.” Evidently it appears that despite their limited funds, Area 23 and Mollie's Fund said the response to Mr. Sun has been overwhelmingly positive.

The campaign will run nationally on network television and it will be promoted on various forms of social media. Langerman also mentioned that there is a "strong likelihood it will play on Taxi TV in major cities around the U.S."