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Volatile Reaction to Breast Cancer TV Spots

Posted Sep 29 2009 10:55pm

Last week I wrote a post about ReThink Breast Cancer’s “Save the Boobs” TV commercial. You can see that post and view the controversial TV spot by clicking here or here. That should help to provide context. The comments I received were both plentiful, passionate and varied in their reaction to the commercial:

(Rhonda) What a shame; this commercial is in such poor taste; breast cancer is serious; it is life threatening; it is not something to mock; i believe this commercial, as much of society advertising, demeans a woman…a body part our creator meant to supply milk for our babies is marketed to be nothing more than a sexual arousal for man. This is in such poor taste. I am extremely disappointed in whoever thought of this commercial. I suppose they have no better ideas or thoughts, so sleeze is what they’ve lowered themselves to….Maybe someday they will get breast cancer and let’s see how funny they think that commercial is….”

(Sarah) If it’s got us talking…and blogging…then it’s memorable and making waves, which I’m sure is to the delight of the organization. And while it definitely has the “roll your eyes” factor for all us girls out there, it does put a young spin on the ugly side of breast cancer. It reminds us…somewhat shockingly…that breast cancer isn’t just something middle-aged women have to deal with — and that’s an important message for both men and women to hear. Personally, I’m much more touched — and inspired — when I hear of the courage and tenacity of survivors such as actress Christina Applegate (see this month’s Women’s Day magazine) . . .but hey, clearly, I’m not the audience here.”

(Freddie) Obviously the work of 25 year old male creatives. Just because a woman is young when breast cancer hits doesn’t mean she isn’t worried about surviving, living to see her children grow up if she even has any yet, keeping her hair, choosing the best treatment option,maintaining a concept of her own femininity even if she no longer has two large mammaries to flop at a bunch of morons sitting around a pool. This is pathetic, offensive, insensitive and totally clueless.

What’s more, I suspect younger breast cancer victims are more concerned about the whole sexuality aspect than older ones, who are more comfortable with themselves and often in long standing relationships. Why would you want to make them feel worse? A public flogging for all involved. When I think of all the smart, strategic people I know who are unemployed, I’m really, really sorry management saved the boobs at the agency that produced this.”

(Carolyn) It’s cute and funny, but in some ways the tongue-in-cheekiness reduces the impact of the message. There’s so much going on — the waiter, the improbable sailors, the guy in the inner-tube, the variety of reactions (oh, and the boobs themselves) – that the call to action is overshadowed. And because it looks like a beer commercial, it doesn’t have enough identity to stand out (”Did you see the ad with the boobs? It was about … um …”)

Will this get men to care about breast cancer? Hard to say. The risk of breast cancer increases with age, with 61 being the median age (according to the ACS). Women aged 20-24 have the lowest breast cancer incidence rate. While showing young, healthy breasts may get guys to pay attention, there’s a risk they’ll lose interest once they realize they’re actually supposed to care about the breasts of older women.”

(Eric) I must say it definitely holds your attention and I agree that this is a very clever way to get the breast cancer awareness message across. Someone seeing it for the first time would certainly think it is a beer commercial, or something similar, perhaps shown during a football game.”

(Mary) I love the creativity, and since it’s geared at getting men’s attention, I would also say it is effective. But, as a woman, it seems to say to me that the bad part of breast cancer is that women lose their boobs. For women who have endured a mastectomy (I have not but know several women who have), I think this ad may even hurt a little. Tongue-in-cheek take on it aside, are we not worthy of turning heads without boobs? What do you men think? Does this insult you that advertisers feel that even on life threatening topics they can only reach you through big-boobed babes? I’m hoping the good intention will outweigh the possible misconceptions of the message. I think a few more hard-core facts juxtaposed with the scantly-clad pool party shots might have made it better. But kudos for bravery and thinking outside the box!”

(Theresa) As a mom of teenaged boys and girls, I am not particularly thrilled with any comercial depicting women’s breast as the object of admiration. I agree with Pam that the message should be a proactive one of self-exam and mammogram and awareness that the disease can strike any age.
Maybe the same message, only a little “classier”.”

(Liz) It got your attention, didn’t it? It’s a powerful message, that turns the tables on those “go Daddy” type ads. A bit tongue in cheek but packs a punch.

I happen to be doing my Master’s thesis on breast cancer communication (although advertising isn’t part it). Given the target demographic it’s probably OK – but if you wanted to reach women 40+ there would need to be another approach.”

(Chris) While I am not offended by this commercial I do think it diminishes the seriousness of the subject.”

(Dave) Not sure but keep reading…. What I am sure of is that this message hits ALL heterosexual males. If that’s who it wanted to hit,it succeeds. It is not for women, but gets the message out to them in a way that has not been tried before. In that way it puts a new twist in prevention and POSSIBLY getting people who would not have/might not have to go for an exam. Why not hit a demographic we have not yet tried to hit? I’m OK with it.”

And the comments go on and on. And the questions continues, does anything go when it comes to creating television commercials to promote breast cancer awareness? I believe the answer is yes. (Although clearly form some of the comments above, we are not all in agreement on this.) Ads are like people and it takes all kinds. Not every message or ad concept works with all audiences or all members of a given audience. It seems to me that it is worth the risk of offending people’s sensibilities in order to convey an important message. Although, I have to tell you, a couple of the spots below test my resolve.

Given the reaction to my last post, I thought I’d compile a collection of breast cancer awareness TV spots that cover a wide range of tonality. Check out this highly varied collection of breast cancer awareness TV commercials. And let me know your thoughts on the matter.
Fashion Targets Breast Cancer “Office”  – TV Commercial

Fashion Targets Breast Cancer “Elevator” – TV Commercial

American Cancer Society Breast Cancer Television Ad – May 2007

Susan G. Komen – The Breast Cancer 3 Day

Susan G. Komen – The Breast Cancer 3 Day – “Kept Promises”

ReThink Breast Cancer – Fashion Targets Breast Cancer

ReThink Breast Cancer – If Men Had Breasts

Breast Cancer Society of Canada – Banned Spot

Breast Cancer Ad for Propaganda & Persuasion

Breakthrough Breast Cancer

Again, let me know what you think. Can you go too far promoting breast cancer awareness?

Post by Dan Dunlop, The Healthcare Marketer

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