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Wednesday 4 October 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# Irish Cancer Society
A number of the 'I Want To Get Cancer' ads can't be shown again
The ASAI made the ruling today.

NINETY TWO COMPLAINTS were received over the Irish Cancer Society’s ‘I want to get cancer’ ads, and today the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) ruled some of the ads were in breach of its code and can’t be shown again.

The ads were shown in various media, including online, TV and radio.

In the initial teaser ad, the advertisers were not identified and the wording ‘I want to get cancer’ featured. The following day, the reveal advertising appeared. This identified the Irish Cancer Society and explained more about the context of the ad.

In its latest ruling, the ASAI said that the common theme running through the complaints was that the wording ‘I want to get cancer’ was:

offensive, insensitive, disrespectful and upsetting to cancer survivors, current sufferers, bereaved families and those who may currently be undergoing tests or waiting on the results of same.

It said that some complainants said that the teaser ad had not identified who the advertiser was or the premise behind the advertisement, but just had the text ‘I want to get cancer’.

While it had become apparent later on through further executions attached to the campaign that the phrase had been a play on words, this fact did not alter the opinions expressed by the complainants.

Some complainants also queried the source of the statistics referenced. Some of the ads said that “by 2020, one in two of us will be getting cancer in our lifetime”. A number of the complainants considered that the basis for the statistics should have been referenced.

‘Public awareness campaign’

get cancer ad Irish Cancer Society Irish Cancer Society

In its response to the complaints, the ASAI said that the clear rationale behind the campaign included the fact that 8,000 people in Ireland die every year from cancer, and that the campaign was created as a public awareness campaign, designed to save lives:

…similar to the way the Road Safety Authority had undertaken hard-hitting campaigns to reduce the number of road deaths and likewise the HSE who had devised campaigns to tackle subjects such as mental health.

One of the main objectives of the campaign had been to try and make people aware of the things they could do to reduce the risk of cancer, the importance of early diagnosis and the various supports available to those who needed them, said the society.

They said they knew from their experience in dealing with cancer patients and their families that there was an appalling lack of awareness of the facts surrounding cancer.

The advertisers said that cancer is a complex disease, and highly emotive and “by promoting such a hard hitting campaign they were trying to inform people more about the disease and encourage them to seek out facts”.

They said they had never meant to cause offence with their advertising and their fundamental mission had been to reduce the burden of cancer on Irish society.

The society also said that the campaign had been created over the course of two years and had not been undertaken lightly.

They realised how provocative and hard hitting the campaign was going to be and they were mindful of their responsibilities to consumers and society.

When creating the campaign, the society carried out formal market research with staff who worked all the time with people affected by cancer, with supporters, survivors and patients. The campaign also featured people who had been directly affected by cancer in their family or who had survived the disease.

The Irish Cancer Society pointed out the work it has been doing for the past 50 years, but noted that cancer rates have risen steadily and by 2020 one in two people in Ireland will get cancer.

They said the backdrop to their campaign was that in spite of all their awareness campaigns and widespread media coverage, people were not listening and that is why they considered some drastic action was needed.

Since the campaign was aired, calls to the freephone cancer nurse line had doubled with enquiries on how to be screened for cancer and general queries about cancer risk reduction.

The society had also had a major increase in traffic to its website and it is happy that the “goal was being achieved in bringing the topic of cancer into conversations and the public domain”.


The ASAI upheld the complaints in part.

It said that while the advertisers had indicated that one of the main objectives of the campaign had been to try and make people aware of the things they could do to reduce the risk of getting cancer, “the importance of early diagnosis and the various supports available, “the campaign had not centred on these factors”.

The complaints committee considered that there was a tolerance in society for charity advertising to be more provocative than commercial advertising, but said “nevertheless, care was needed when addressing such an emotive issue as cancer, particularly when using provocative copy”.

The committee noted the level of complaint in this case and the distress that had been caused to complainants.

The committee considered that the ‘teaser’ element of the campaign was in breach of Sections 3.3, 3.20 and 3.23 of the Code.

In relation to the ‘reveal’ element of the campaign, the members noted that some of the executions/vignettes were very clear in explaining the context of the message. They did not consider that these elements of the campaign were in breach of the Code.

However, they considered that the other vignettes in the television advertisements (vignettes 1, 2 and 3 in advertisement D – the parts which showed a surfer sitting on a surfboard; a woman leaning against a garden shed; a woman and man in A car – and vignettes 1, 2, 3 and 4 in advertisement E – the woman sitting a coffee shop; surfer sitting on a surfboard, woman leaning against the garden shed; and a woman and man in a car) had “not been clear as to what the individuals meant by wanting to ‘get cancer’, and were therefore likely to cause distress to consumers”.

The committee considered that these elements of the campaign were in breach of Sections 3.3, 3.20 and 3.23 of the Code.

The complaints committee noted that the advertisers had provided substantiation for saying “By 2020, 1 in 2 of us will be getting cancer in our lifetime” and did not consider that this claim in any of the advertising was in breach of the Code.

However, the committee reminded advertisers “that great care that should be taken when developing advertising for such emotive and sensitive topics”.

The ASAI said that as the ‘teaser’ element of the campaign had concluded, no further action was required in relation to that element of the campaign.

The elements of the campaign highlighted to be found to be in breach of the code – the vignettes mentioned above – should not be used again.

Read: ‘I want to get cancer’: the new campaign that aims to shock you>

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