He takes a very direct approach to the pursuit of prostate health. He's Branko the Prostate Czech, and he's been wielding his latex glove to raise awareness during September's Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.
The public service effort is being funded by consumer shop Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners to get people talking about the disease. A microsite and Twitter feed were launched by KBS+P September 9th with the blessing of the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
Branko, the online persona, was created by KBS+P copywriter Ash Tavassoli from the real-life Branko, a retired Czech auto worker, whom Tavassoli said he found through a posting on Craiglist.
Tavassoli, whose agency currently has no pharma clients, said he was looking for a fresh approach to disease awareness. “We think we're coming at it with a whole new approach while keeping the facts clear.”
KBS+P put Branko behind the camera for a series of videos in which he stalks real men in public places and politely, yet firmly, insists on examining their prostate. Branko, a sturdy man bearing a red track suit, tells a gentleman in a mall food court, “I can check your prostate here, or we can go somewhere private.”
Getting Czeched is an uncomfortable prospect, but that's the point. Since men are less apt to discuss their health and take preventive steps than women, they needed an icebreaker, said Tavassoli, and Branko, with his masculine ways, was designed to appeal to them.
“When I'm watching people play with the site, they're laughing,” Tavassoli said, “but it's breaking down that wall, and prostate cancer has never really had anything like that.”
Prostate cancer, which is the second-most common form of the disease after skin cancer, strikes only men. One in six American men get it, and it's their second-leading cause of cancer death behind cancer of the lung.
The foundation says age 40 is a good time to start screening for those at highest risk. It recommends the rubber-glove examination—euphemistically termed a DRE—and PSA blood-draw test. But the US Preventive Services Task Force finds current evidence insufficient to assess the risks and benefits of testing in men younger than 75.
“Men are very difficult to talk to health issues about anyway, [and] when it comes to diseases below the belt, it's even more so,” said Dan Zenka, SVP of communications for the Prostate Cancer Foundation. “I think Branko and his, err, unique approach to prostate cancer awareness and screening might just break through the barriers and might just get men to start talking about it and schedule their blood draw and DRE test.”
Branko's microsite links to the foundation's website and to Zenka's blog, Mynewyorkminute.org. (Zenka was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 51 and said he launched the blog two days later.)
KBS+P's public service efforts complement the foundation's mostly female-focused communications. "Women still make about 85% of the medical decisions at home," Zenka said. “They are the ones who push their husbands to schedule an annual physical.”
While the decision to get a prostate screen is a personal one, the campaign suggests that discussing things with your physician is preferable to being on the business end of Branko's glove. “There's nothing wrong with being aware, deciding with your physician at what age—40 and onward—is right to begin screening,” said Zenka.
Added Tavassoli, “We plan on launching more Branko pieces where we get more facts out there. People need to know.”