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Navigating Cancer Awareness: Reflecting on effective campaigns and the Poonam Pandey incident

A closer look at some thoughtful initiatives that educate and inspire people about Cancer in the realm of the Poonam Pandey episode

The media and advertising industry has been abuzz with discussions surrounding the controversial 'Poonam Pandey' incident. The influencer/actress is under severe criticism for faking her death in a campaign involving creative agency Schbang and Hauterrfly, a women-centric media platform owned by Mumbai-based Fork Media Group.

The actress and the agencies involved claim that the intent of the campaign was to increase awareness around cervical cancer. However, it has sparked outrage from audiences. This incident adds to a growing trend of campaigns facing backlash for using deceptive tactics, such as Nora Fatehi pretending to be a victim of online AI abuse and Fever FM faking its brand's demise.

Schbang issued an apology statement, but it faced severe backlash on LinkedIn from the advertising and marketing community. Many are questioning whether faking something as serious as someone’s passing is necessary to raise awareness about a disease already feared by many.

Let us have a look at some of the campaigns that have successfully tackled topics around Cancer.

Working with Cancer

The campaign was inspired by Publicis Groupe chief executive Arthur Sadoun’s experience of the disease and his desire to change the corporate world’s attitudes to Cancer. In 2023, The Publicis Foundation launched a cross-industry coalition to erase the stigma of cancer in the workplace. The campaign was supported by cancer charities and organisations including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), Macmillan Cancer Support, Working With Cancer and the Gustave Roussy Institute.

At the World Economic Forum, the campaign encouraged some of the world’s most influential companies around the world to commit to building an open, supportive and recovery-forward work culture for their employees. The campaign was awarded the Health Grand Prix for Good at Cannes Lions 2023.

Laugh At Death

This was an awareness campaign on palliative care by The Indian Association of Palliative Care (IAPC) to help Indians #LaughAtDeath. Conceptualised by Medulla Communications, the campaign aimed at shattering taboos and starting conversations about death. The campaign had the terminally ill perform stand-up comedy.

Know Your Lemons

In 2017, Worldwide Breast Cancer launched a campaign containing just a simple image of lemons in an egg carton. Shows 12 different ways that breast cancer can affect women. The image was designed in 2003 by Corrine Beaumont- founder of the Worldwide Breast Cancer and Know Your Beaumont lost both of her grandmothers to the disease. The simple image garnered a lot of attention on social media and was able to actually guide audiences about the symptoms of breast cancer. It quickly became a global campaign and has since become a movement.

Navigating Cancer Awareness: Reflecting on effective campaigns and the Poonam Pandey incident

Be the Match. Be the Guy

In 2016, Be the Match, a nonprofit in the U.S. that runs a bone marrow registry, was facing a hard time finding 18-24 year old males to donate their bone marrow. The bone marrow of young men is considered to be of the most value in the space. 

In order to get young men to donate bone marrow, the non-profit released a quirky and humorous campaign called, Be The Match. Be The Guy. The campaign featured random 18-24 year old men, being goofy, funny, and silly but at the same time indicating that they were being a hero for saving lives.

The campaign saw at least 18,000 young men coming forward to donate bone marrow says the organisation. 

 30s Risk Checker Challenge

Prostate Cancer UK, a Not-For-Profit for Charity launched a simple call-to-action content that aimed at convincing men to check themselves for prostate cancer.

It encouraged men to use the ‘Risk Checker’ to increase the number of diagnoses of men with prostate cancer. The Risk Checker was a simple platform that asks for age, ethnicity, and family history to determine a man's risk and provides information personalised by risk level in real-time. The campaign ran for six weeks and targeted football audiences through ad spots across digital, traditional, and out-of-home media.

According to reports, over 550k men completed the risk checker during the campaign and convinced about 63% of these men to go further and get checked by professionals.

Apart from these campaigns, In India, we have also seen celebrities like Manisha Koirala, Tahira Kashyap, Lisa Ray and Sonali Bendre who have braved the disease come out and be a part of some thought-provoking brand campaigns related to the cause.

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