Why Cancer Research UK’s death threat is wrong
Last week, I received a letter from ‘cancer’. Written in the first person.
This is some of what cancer told me “Everyone knows me and the devastation I cause…for those people (who get cancer) their friends and families, things won’t ever be the same again….I don’t care who I hurt. I’m still tearing lives apart…every two minutes I take hold of another person….and I won’t go away without a fight.”
Scary stuff. But if that’s not enough, it also talks of death: “Now they are saying that someday soon I won’t be a death threat anymore….because scientists are outsmarting me”.
In essence, if you don’t give to Cancer Research UK, cancer might carry out its death threat. On you.
Of course, the conceit is too clever by half. But smart-arse rather than smart creativity is not the real issue here.
Cancer is a subject that calls for maturity and sensitivity. For instance, someone at the charity (if not the agency) should have thought about the impact this could have on someone who’s just been diagnosed. Or is living with secondary breast cancer. Or who has no idea what their prognosis might be. Or whose child has just been diagnosed.
Cancer patients are often in a very delicate emotional state. It doesn’t take much to scare them. To cause panic. So it really isn’t smart for our leading cancer charity to talk about “a death threat”. Under any circumstances. The language is wrong. We all know what cancer can do. And is a threat really the best way to make the case for research? This is not brave creative. It is stupid creative.
Understatement is far more powerful. Quiet dignity more moving than rage. There is not even an apology anywhere in the piece that states “if this reaches you at a difficult time we are very sorry for any distress it may cause….”
So excited were the team about this conceit that the rest of the pack appears woefully neglected. There’s no human interest, not even any exciting news on research, just some dull corporate puffery (“We receive no government funding” being highlighted twice) and a direct debit form. Oh and “Genome mapping” is not the sort of language I’d employ in a door drop especially with no explanation as to what it means or its relevance.
It’s a shame, having spent all that money on the re-brand, that the first piece of Cancer Research UK print many people will see is this. It lacks humanity, sensitivity and clarity. I fear the the tone smacks of a large organisation that has now lost touch with the people it is ultimately there to help. Let’s hope that future work shows a better understanding of patients and their needs and a clearer grasp of how research can provide answers.