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'I want to get cancer': the new campaign that aims to shock you

The campaign is based on different uses of the word ‘get’ and is aimed at people that are likely to get cancer in the next three years.

AS DOZENS OF people pack into a small room at the Irish Cancer Society’s headquarters, you can’t help but wonder how many people wouldn’t be here if the message wasn’t ‘I want to get cancer’.

The teaser parts of the Irish Cancer Society’s advertisement have been causing a bit of controversy in the run up to the launch of their new campaign, with some people saying that out of context, saying ‘I want to get cancer’ is insensitive.

The video advert, which was posted on their Facebook page and has amassed over 180,000 views drew a lot of negative commentary, with most people saying that a different type of wording should have been chosen, and showed shock that the message was approved by the organisation.

When members of the charity, and people in the television advertisement say “I want to get cancer, because my mum has it”, the core message is meant as ‘I want to understand cancer’. Other meanings are present as well: I want to attack cancer, and I want to stop cancer – “before it gets you”.

The Irish Cancer Society knew there would be some discomfort around the ad, but after researching and consulting with cancer survivors and knowing that rates of cancer are on the increase, they felt the ‘hard-hitting’ campaign was needed.

“Obviously we don’t want people to get cancer,” the Irish Cancer Society’s Grainne O’Rourke told TheJournal.ie. “But we wanted something that people couldn’t ignore.”

People talk about cancer in hushed tones, and it’s time to stop pussyfooting around it.
If the campaign was called ‘I want to get a heart attack, I don’t think people would be as shocked.

IRISH CANCER SOCIETY WANTS YOU TO GET CANCER IN 2017 Louise McSharry 2FM DJ, holds a '1 in 2' sign, which is the estimated number of people with cancer by 2020. If the campaign was simply '1 in 2', do you think it would be less effective? Source: Andres Poveda

And that hits on one of the issues that charities must face: fierce advertising competition from other worthy causes.

The ad agency that worked with the Irish Cancer Society on the campaign say that this angle wasn’t something they went into lightly.

“The Irish Cancer Society has been around for 50 years,” says Ray Sheerin of Chemistry. “So we needed to go for impact. Something needed to be done that’s different, because we’re dealing with a significantly bigger problem.”

The charity also got a lot of discounts and goodwill gestures during the process of making the advertisements, with some offering to work free of charge in solidarity with the cause.

1 in 2

Work on the campaign started in 2012 as research into public awareness of cancer.

With rates of cancer diagnosis increasing because of an increase in population and life expectancies, it’s predicted that by 2020, half of the Irish population will receive a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime.

With that in mind, the campaign aims to raise awareness among those who will get cancer now to start thinking about getting checked – and increasing their chances of surviving.

IRISH CANCER SOCIETY WANTS YOU TO GET CANCER IN 2017 Former irish rugby international and journalist Tony Ward. Source: Andres Poveda

Tony Ward, former international rugby player and journalist, spoke about how men are really good at bringing their cars to be serviced, but aren’t great at going to the doctor themselves to be checked.

He said that he linked his symptoms to old age at first, and when he finally went to the doctor, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer.

“It’s not like the dentist,” he said at the launch today. “You don’t leave it until there’s a problem before doing something about it.”

Men are statistically more likely to die of cancer – because they are usually diagnosed much later than women. Most of the Irish Cancer Society’s interaction with the public is made up of women – some of them making the call on behalf of their husbands.

Another target audience of the campaign are young people. 2FM presenter Louise McSharry says that she initially thought her symptoms were those of menopause, until she went to the doctor, and was eventually diagnosed with stage 3 of Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of 31.

Because of her age, she was given a survival rate of around 80%, which shows the importance of listening to your body for early warning signs of cancer, she says.

“I know €60 for the doctor can be expensive when you can spend that on a night out or a new pair of shoes. But it’s so important to go when you think there’s something up.”

This campaign is shocking, but getting cancer is shocking and this campaign will hopefully shock people out of their comfort zone.

“Cancer doesn’t have to mean the end of your life either,” she adds, which is where some of the fear around talking about it comes from. “I was diagnosed, haven’t been in treatment for almost two years, and I don’t think about it most days.”

It’s hoped that the campaign will reduce the expected ratio of one in two of the population with cancer to one in three for men and one in four for women.

“That would be progress,” says O’Rourke.

Read: Over 350,000 people died from alcohol-related cancer in just one year

Read: The risk of dying of cancer is significantly higher among Irish men than Irish women

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