Atin Roy
Guest Article

Creating real impact for cancer awareness

Our guest author discusses impactful cancer awareness campaigns that leverage social media for early detection and prevention.

There are more than 200 different types of known cancers. They are generally classified on the basis of the body parts or according to the type of cell they affect. In India, the most common cancers among men are lung, mouth, and tongue and among women are breast, cervix, ovary, and corpus uteri.

However, the majority of people put all types of cancers in one big cardboard box and label it: ‘death’. Never mind the fact that some cancers may be treated if diagnosed at an early stage. Hence there is an urgent need for widespread awareness and screening of all kinds of cancers.

Awareness is the key to survival

The earlier you catch it, the better the chances of surviving the dreaded disease. Over the years there have been several cancer awareness and screening campaigns. Here are some great examples that have created far-reaching impacts through their innovative approach.

Melanoma Likes Me – by Melanoma Patients Australia

This is from the early days of social media. Melanoma or skin cancer is a major threat to 15–30-year-olds in Australia. Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays is the main cause. At the same time, young Aussies love to spend time on sunny beaches.

The ‘Melanoma Likes Me’ campaign smartly used social media to create awareness about the fact that excessive exposure to the sun may cause melanoma or skin cancer. Each time a young Aussie posted a picture with popular hashtags like #sun, #sand, #beach, #bikini etc. an application connected to X (then Twitter) and Instagram aggregated and geolocated these posts. The posts were then shared with an online team that shared creepy messages in real-time from the social handle ‘Melanoma’.

Creating real impact for cancer awareness

Therefore, when someone shares a beach selfie, they would immediately receive a following message saying, ‘Melanoma follows you’. The handle would also ‘like’ and send replies to the messages posted by the users. When they checked the handle, they were directed towards a portal where they could check for melanoma as well as learn about prevention. The campaign was able to increase unique visits to the ‘Skincheck’ website by 1371% over a period of just 4 weeks.

Husbands Initiated Movement (HIM) – Phillips India

The mortality rate of breast cancer in India is 12.7 per 100000 women. Yet, awareness and more importantly, screening is a big barrier. To add to that, talking about breasts is an extremely intimate and even taboo subject in a conservative society like India.

An insight was unearthed from the life of a busy Indian woman who is most at-risk. Indian women have too many outdoor and household chores to complete and hence they deprioritize themselves, especially things like screening for abnormalities in their breasts for signs of cancer.

To create a real impact, it was decided to flip the narrative. Instead of giving pedantic instructions to the woman, who may or may not follow them, HIM targeted the husbands. Men were asked to do one household chore so that their wives could get 10 minutes to do a breast self-examination.

Creating real impact for cancer awareness

The campaign was anchored around a hero video content piece encouraging the men to act and was supported by clickable ads and social media posts. Doctors were reached not just as doctors, but also as husbands. The campaign was primarily online with targeted on-ground activations in offices and malls.

The Philips HIM (Husband Initiated Movement) reached out to over 3 million people in less than 30 days. It was the No. 1 trending topic in India on X (then Twitter) on October 30 - World Breast Cancer Day.

Social media: A boon for early detection

The above examples showcase innovative approaches to cancer awareness. ‘Melanoma likes me’ uses the surprise element of being ‘followed’ by a threat and HIM uses the contra approach of leveraging a close influencer to pass on an important message.

The success of both these campaigns clearly demonstrates how crucial it is to keep the target human beings and their context at the centre. Additionally, when employing digital media it is also imperative to personalise the message and enable the audience to take a decision or at least self-screen.

Digital and social media help bring the power of interactivity and self-screening to fill the gap between motivation and diagnostic access. It is not merely education but a nudge to act. And therefore more likely to move someone to seek medical attention. That’s the only way we can hold off the emperor of maladies from taking over.

(Our guest author is Atin Roy, Senior Vice President - Health & Wellness at Ogilvy)

Have news to share? Write to us