So if it’s shock tactics they were after, and public attention to go with it, then they must be delighted. As must the advertising company most of all. Job done, they will be saying I suspect.
One can understand the temptation for charities to go just that little bit further in making us sit up and notice. More charities than ever before are competing for yours and my funds. They are, I believe, genuinely motivated by a desire to make sure potentially life-saving messages get through to us. But do the ends really justify the means?
I can remember two occasions in my charity career when judgement calls needed to be made about advertising. At the Alzheimer’s Society in the mid-nineties the staff recoiled at a proposed advertising campaign showing a brain scan with the slogan ‘It blows your mind.’ But when tested with people with dementia and their carers they loved it. They felt that the time was right to shock people a bit. So we ran it. All seems a bit tame now twenty years later. I can’t even find the posters on the internet.
More recently when I was at Ovarian Cancer Action I looked at some proposals for a ‘shock’ advertising campaign and would have probably signed on the dotted line if I had had a choice. But I was persuaded otherwise by colleagues. Looking back, they were right and I was wrong. There was little evidence to suggest there was the appetite among patients and carers for such a message at that time.
The reason for telling these stories is simply to make the point that – as with much else in running a charity – things get dangerous once you get too far ahead, or too far behind, your beneficiaries and how they think and feel. To be fair to Pancreatic Cancer Action it does sound as if people with pancreatic cancer have been involved in the campaign. They feature in it at least anyway. The founder Ali Stunt makes this point in her blog about the campaign yesterday. Although the fact that -as far as I know – other pancreatic cancer charities are not clamouring to endorse it might suggest that they are hearing otherwise on the ground.
On This Morning earlier today, the resident TV doctor, Dr Dawn, said the controversy about the campaign was based on a misunderstanding of its message. The charity is wanting people to go to their doctor with possible early symptoms to get them checked out as possible. Fair enough. But if the message is being obscured by the medium’s ‘shock tactics’ then I would say the campaign is failing in its objectives. I could understand it a bit more in a strange way if it was a cool fundraising pitch but not as a health improvement campaign.
I do agree with others that the charity has crossed the line into quite dangerous territory in which we are being asked to consider whether one disease is nastier than another. Is that really what charities want now? As Breakthrough Breast Cancer have said today: ‘It’s not a competition.’
It’s a matter of judgement at the end of the day. And I am no Mary Whitehouse. But in my opinion the charity has made the wrong call.
I just hope it’s not counterproductive in the long run.