Ryan Reynolds turned 45 last year, something you already know if you are a fan of his or if you saw the Lead from Behind campaign from the Colorectal Cancer Alliance

Reynolds and fellow actor Rob McElhenney (of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fame), who also turned 45 in 2022, marked the occasion by having their colorectal cancer screenings filmed

(Spoiler alert: Reynolds had one small polyp that was removed while McElhenney had three, all also small and successfully removed.) 

There are some numbers worth noting around that awareness campaign. The video was viewed 18 million times and, more importantly, the number of colonoscopies scheduled on ZocDoc increased by 36%.

Following a campaign with one of Hollywood’s biggest box-office stars is a challenging task, so for this year’s Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, the Alliance decided to go with But, Stuff…

While it’s a cheeky name, the campaign gently reminds patients to prioritize colonoscopies. The protagonist of the 60-second spot means to get a cancer screening, “but, stuff” keeps coming up, from pruning a tree to building a model of the solar system. 

The PSA launched in February and by the time Campaign Confidential recently spoke with Amy Ganderson, senior director of digital strategy at the Alliance, it had already aired some 6,000 times. For Ganderson, the light-hearted approach is well-suited to the Alliance’s message. 

“Typical PSAs can be very heart-wrenching and we wanted to try something a little bit different to try to get people to take action,” she explains. “A lot of people think about butts and poop and there’s a stigma around it. People don’t want to talk about it. Our approach was to walk that line of leaning into humor while being clever and smart about it.”

Unlike some earlier PSAs from the Alliance, this effort focuses on the distractions of daily life. Rather than attempt to convince viewers that they should be screening for colon cancer, the goal is to persuade them to put a screening at the top of their to-do list. 

The Alliance and others saw the COVID-19 pandemic as making a long-standing problem even worse, as normal medical procedures and check-ups were missed and unchecked medical conditions exacerbated. The news that screenings are now recommended at age 45, rather than 50 (a recommendation made in May 2018 by the American Cancer Society) has also been slower to reach adults at risk. 

“You’ve got this running to-do list in the back of your head and reaching out to your healthcare provider may not be on that to-do list,” she explains. “We’re trying to break that thought process to make sure that you’re thinking about yourself and taking ownership of your own health.”

The But, Stuff… campaign is the most visible Alliance activity for this year’s Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, but the organization is operating on multiple fronts. Ganderson points towards its work in Philadelphia, where the Alliance is building a new screening campaign focused on that city’s sizable African American population. 

“We’re trying to wear both hats: Thinking nationally with some of our efforts like the PSA, but then also going super deep in specific cities to try to reach different communities in those cities, both at a grassroots level, but then with ads as well,” she says. 

Another national effort is the Alliance’s partnership with Walgreens. A direct link to the Alliance’s screening quiz has been added to the Walgreens’ Find My Care app. That initiative launched at the end of December and while the Alliance does not have any numbers they can share yet, Ganderson is optimistic about the partnership’s potential reach. 

“[Walgreens] has access to a great pool of customers and we have some great educational materials that can provide value to them,” she says. 

More broadly, she thinks there may be a fundamental change for the better taking place in how the general public views colorectal cancer screenings. They are increasingly seen less as things to dread and instead they are viewed with some interest and even positive anticipation, as people embrace taking a proactive step to protect their own health.

“Almost on a daily basis, people I know, friends, and family members will say, ‘Hey, I’m going to get screened now!’” she shares. “People are excited about it. That’s what we want — to change the conversation and change the narrative.”

To read a March 2024 article on the Colorectal Cancer Alliance and ACS tackling colorectal cancer, click here.