In branded oncology advertising, the lines are clearly drawn. We have cautious clients, conservative legal and regulatory reviews and ever-watchful government bodies. But in the world of unbranded disease awareness, we can tap into the life-shattering emotional experience of having cancer. Here are some compelling campaigns that invoke a visceral response—you laugh, cry, even cringe—followed by a more thoughtful and inspired reaction to learn more.
Pancreatic Cancer Awareness, Pancreatic Cancer Action (Team Darwin)
Cancer envy? This unflinching and controversial campaign hits hard on the dismal facts about pancreatic cancer and the desperation of a lone patient wishing for a more “livable” cancer. With its stark imagery and bold, simple copy, the message jumps off the page—it’s too late for me, but not for you.
Breast Cancer Awareness, Associação da Luta Contra o Cancer (DDB Maputo, Mozambique)
Superheroes are just like us. Breasts are the ultimate attention-getters in advertising. In this provocative campaign, illustrations of Wonder Woman, Cat Woman, Storm and She-Hulk performing breast self-exams convey a clear message: Breast cancer can happen to anyone—even a superhero. But is a young demographic the right audience to target to make an impact on early detection? And how many of these posters will wind up on the bedroom walls of adolescent comic book fans instead of in waiting rooms?
Advanced Basal Cell Carcinoma Awareness (Harrison and Star)
Melanoma isn’t the only skin cancer to fear. This campaign highlights the dangers of advanced basal-cell carcinoma—typically regarded as “less serious” because it rarely metastasizes. It’s hard to look away from the raw image of a desperate-looking patient suffering from abnormal, uncontrolled lesions. This powerful, professional campaign shows a disease with an urgent need for more effective treatment options.
Skin Cancer Awareness, (Area 23)
From tanning bed to deathbed. The viewer becomes part of the action in this thought-provoking campaign. The premise: a tanning parlor offering a “Free Killer Tan” is actually a funeral parlor. This campaign delivers both creatively and strategically—getting people to rethink their risk of skin cancer from “safe” indoor tanning beds.
Colorectal Cancer Awareness (HCB Health)
Butt of a joke? This campaign is a great example of disruptive guerrilla advertising and social media. Although anyone with a colon can get colorectal cancer, this campaign targets men—on Father’s Day—to get a colonoscopy.
Zelboraf for Melanoma (VCCP Health)
We’re unique like everyone else. The global Zelboraf campaign touches on the individuality of patients with metastatic melanoma by making the brand personal—successfully bringing sentiment into a seemingly analytical and clinical space.
Mark Oppici is senior vice president, creative director at Natrel Communications.