Take a look at this image and tell me if you think there’s any­thing grossly wrong with it:

Cancer Center billboard

Apart from the mung­ing of the phone num­ber (delib­er­ate) and the — ahem — unfor­tu­nate resem­blance to a recent super­hero movie (tragic), is there any­thing that stands out to you as being troubling?


That’s what I was think­ing too when I made the ad. At the time I hadn’t been think­ing of the Superman redux, so the image was come by more or less hon­estly — in fact when it was pointed out that the graphic was rem­i­nis­cent of said film I almost decided to trash the whole damned thing and start over — but what I really wanted to con­vey was a sense of opti­mism and courage, two things can­cer patients need in abundance.

I also wanted some­thing clean and really punchy, since the ad would end up 25 feet wide and on a bill­board. Thus pow­er­ful iconog­ra­phy and a sim­ple, clear mes­sage were all part of the require­ment. This par­tic­u­lar ad is one of my favorites; I really, really like it.

Well, not every­one felt the same way. On one front there were inter­nal com­plaints about it (there seemed to be a mis­un­der­stand­ing that we’re offer­ing a cure for can­cer, which we obvi­ously are not and which the ad doesn’t even imply); but there were also com­plaints phoned in from the com­mu­nity. Evidently because some peo­ple do not sur­vive can­cer, the sug­ges­tion that oth­ers can and do is some­how offensive.

Now any­one who works in a PR or adver­tis­ing capac­ity knows that cre­at­ing an ad which results in pub­lic reac­tion is prob­a­bly a good thing, even if all you hear is com­plain­ing. It means the ad is get­ting noticed. And of course the pos­i­tive feed­back we’ve received from can­cer sur­vivors and their fam­i­lies far out­weighs the few com­plaints. This is an opti­mistic and empow­er­ing ad, and it beats the liv­ing shit out of the orig­i­nal con­cept brought to me.

But I won­der about the kind of men­tal­ity it requires to sug­gest that a can­cer diag­no­sis auto­mat­i­cally means a fatal prog­no­sis. Those who object to the ad seem to be sug­gest­ing can­cer = death, which just doesn’t wash for me. Of course I’ve never been diag­nosed with can­cer so I can’t really say what it’s like to face the ill­ness, but I’m rea­son­ably cer­tain that, if I ever do end up with a malig­nant tumor, I’d much rather have a vision in mind of a super­hero than, say, Ernest Hemingway.

(For the record, the orig­i­nal con­cept as pre­sented to me was the slo­gan “Cancer sucks. Say it, fight it, cure it.” There’s no way you can attach a pos­i­tive image to that slo­gan. Pictures of weep­ing chil­dren and sad-​​eyed pup­pies do not a good bill­board make.)


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