We are already half way through November, or for the boys, Movember. I imagine many moustaches are on their way to prime condition.
November means another month and another cancer awareness campaign after October’s Pink Ribbon Campaign. However, since the major controversies surrounding the Susan G. Komen Foundation in the past year, these cancer charity marketing initiatives have been under the microscope and subject to much backlash.
Last month, Margaret Wente’s commentary in The Globe and Mail regarding Breast Cancer Awareness Month carried the exasperated title, “Can We Just Relax About our Breasts?” Ms. Wente posits that the problem with breast cancer awareness is due to the “fear, hysteria and paranoia that people have whipped up around breasts.” She cites “chemophobia” as fuelling “imaginary risks” surrounding breast cancer, and points to Florence Williams’ book Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History as an example of this hysteria.
A few days after Ms. Wente’s article came another submission in The Globe and Mail, this time regarding Movember. Author Amberly McAteer wrote, “[Does] asking people to do something as silly as grow hair trivialize the real, scary issues the Movember movement is trying to elevate?” She also mentioned knowing a few men in the past year who grew Movember moustaches but did not participate in raising any funds for the charity.
I completely understand these concerns about whether creative marketing is pushing the focus from more deadly or common diseases, creating unnecessary fear and misunderstanding about the risk of certain conditions, and that they may even trivialize the diseases. Yet, is it wrong for these charities to try to appeal to the general public if it results in greater awareness and fundraising for the cause? Both Movember and Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns do not pursue misleading agendas, nor do I buy the assertion that they generate an unwarranted hysteria regarding the diseases. Additionally, I am wondering what solutions are being offered if one of the main complaints is that the so-called unsexy medical conditions, such as colon cancer and epilepsy, are being overshadowed by these hugely successful campaigns for breast cancer, and prostate cancer and men’s mental health. Understandably it is more difficult to market these “less sexy” diseases to the general public, though the yearly costs of inflammatory bowel disease in Canada is approximately $2.8 billion.
We have to think about what are the goals of any health awareness and fundraising initiatives. For Movember, it is “Awareness and Education, Survivorship, Research” for prostate cancer and male mental health initiatives. The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation aims to “raise awareness and mobilize action on breast cancer…our investments in vital research, education and health promotion programs have led to progress in breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.” These two campaigns are excellent examples of successful charity marketing despite their imperfections. Yet, I agree with many of the criticisms concerning these campaigns. Yes, consumers should be wary of products marketed as submitting a portion of the sale to cancer research, such as in the case of the pink ribbon branded NFL products that, in the end, only 5% will go to the American Cancer Society. I agree that the risks concerning these diseases should not be exaggerated nor packaged into sleek, misleading products. I agree that there are more common and more deadly diseases and conditions that should gain greater public awareness, and increased funds for research and treatment. However, there is little to be achieved by lamenting about the successes of Movember and the Pink Ribbon Campaign.
If, for example, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada and Epilepsy Canada would like to increase awareness and funding, these organizations should analyze Movember and Breast Cancer Awareness Month’s marketing programs as great examples of how cancer campaigns can be effective and prominent in public discourse, and plan to replicate that success. In the ideal world, we would be able to raise the most awareness and money for the diseases that are the most common, most deadly, most devastating, or perhaps most expensive to the patient. However, reality dictates that the distribution of raised funds will never be perfectly even between these causes. But can we aim to increase awareness of those conditions that are not raised through Movember and Breast Cancer Awareness? Of course, and we can do that without slamming the popularity of facial hair this month. So let us celebrate the successes of Movember and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and hope that other charitable causes can reach similar goals as these organizations. Here is to mustaches and pink ribbons to all of us.