Underdog? Not for long.

Every year Cancer Research UK run an event called ‘Race For Life.’ It’s a fund-raiser, all the participants are women and they undertake a sponsored 5 or 10km walk/jog/run/dance – however they choose to cover the distance. Funds raised go into research aimed at finding a cure for cancer in all its various forms. 

This years TV commercials for Race For Life have just started and they caught my attention for several reasons. The language and phrases used by people talking about cancer are very direct, they embody threats and insults targeted at cancer as if it were the most detestable thing you could ever imagine.  (It is detestable but I’ve never seen it addressed this way in an advertising campaign).   Statements include “hello cancer, are you scared?” “you mess with her and you mess with all of us” and “cancer you prat.”  The tone is assertive bordering aggressive with a clear “we’re coming to get you… ” message which happens to be the tagline coupled with an unsaid but thinly veiled ‘and when we do you’ll wish you never existed!’ inference.

This is not the kind of language or stance commonly taken during TV commercials and it’s certainly not an approach I’ve seen associated with cancer research fundraising previously. Most cancer (and other charity) related ads tend to layer images and language that pull on the heart-strings and make the viewer feel sorry for the person/people/animals the charity is supporting.  The Race For Life ad is nothing like that at all. It implies cancer is going to get a damned good kicking and I find the lack of tear-jerking sentimentality very refreshing.  I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, I want science to develop a side-effect free nemesis for cancer that enables everyone to be cured rather than placed in remission. 

The commercial made a clever choice when it came to the accompanying soundtrack.  The song is Underdog by Kasabian and there’s some interesting messaging going on here. There is no doubt that a cancer diagnosis makes you feel like an underdog, a Basenji confronted by a Tosa.  Initial OMG thoughts are compounded as various tests ensue. It’s like peeling an onion where each layer reveals another piece of information to determine just how serious the situation is.  At the core of the onion lies life or death and as you peel away each layer there’s plenty of onion juice to invoke tears.     I like Kasabian so was already familiar with the song – it starts with: 

Kill me if you dare

Hold my head up everywhere

Keep myself riding on this train.

You can listen to Underdog here. You get a cancer diagnosis and you have to keep your head up, keep riding this train called life.  The music invokes another warning directed at cancer – these people are refusing to be terrorized by it.  Towards the end of the commercial there’s an interesting x-ray image too – watch and you’ll see another act of insubordination.

The ad strikes a chord with me. It’s stance brings back memories of the approach I took as a child when bigger, older kids tried to pick on my kid brother. Even if they’d beaten me up (they didn’t) I’d have put up quite a fight because my little brother was worth protecting.    It’s the same kind of defiant stance I adopted when handed a diagnosis of aggressive, fast-growing breast cancer – whatever crap was coming my way I wasn’t about to bow down to it. There’s been a lot of crap over the past 10 months, unsurprisingly I haven’t been suppressed, shaken – a little, stirred – nope.

Go take a look at the Race For Life commercial for yourself.  For a charity ad its refreshingly different and good to see no hint of the  ‘poor thing’ mentality that so often accompanies this kind of fundraising publicity. 




13 thoughts on “Underdog? Not for long.

  1. Pingback: Giving Something Back 10,

    • Thank you so much for your support, it makes such a difference knowing there are people ‘out there’ who understand and want to see the tables turned on cancer. I’m sorry you lost your mother too – I’m not sure I ever really recovered from losing mine. It made me all the more determined to be around for my son though I’m sad to be putting him through this experience, it is not something I wish for anyone.


  2. Love the ad, Tracy. Did that guy at the end say, “Up yours, Cancer”? haha. I love how you were born with this attitude. I would have loved to see you put up a fight for your younger brother. Good job in kicking cancer’s arse. {{{Hugs}}} Kozo


    • It’s great to see a fighting ad instead of a tear jerker isn’t it 🙂 The guy does say up yours cancer – that’s about as strong as you can get language wise for a TV ad here. I’ll keep fighting, there’s no other way. Sending you love and hugs, your friend Tracy


  3. I think the FU attitude towards cancer is great. People feel so alone at these times and this gives the impression of a ‘battle plan’ for them. Instead of saying, ‘oh dear, poor thing!’ I love it and think you certainly are a warrior when it comes to this 😉


    • I thought it was a real change from the ‘oh dear, poor thing’ ads too Dianne and to take this on I think we need a least some element of a FU attitude to get through each day, especially when there’s so much uncertainty.


  4. Great post Tracy. It’s good to hear about a new approach to advertising where cancer is concerned. Let’s hope this inspires others to take a more forthright attitude when dealing with this scourge on health.


    • I hope so. As Dianne says, the FU attitude is much better than the poor thing one. The real shame though, even today, is that despite the advertising the impacts of cancer are so poorly understood


  5. Tracy,
    I’ve noticed this type of F. U. cancer thing here in the States with young adult cancer groups like Stupid Cancer. The irreverence paid to cancer in their media, swag (they have some awesome t-shirts!) and general messaging is awesome. Love this Race for Life ad, too!


    • hi JoAnn, it’s good that there are groups like Stupid Cancer. The Race for Life ad is the first of its kind here, most of our ads are in the ‘this is sad and death may result’ category…. not great! It is hard enough to go through this at my age but as a young adult it’s unimaginable. These kids should be enjoying themselves and having fun, not sitting in chemo wards. Well done to Stupid Cancer for changing attitudes and outlooks.


    • Thanks Jo, I guess I was blessed with some strength of mind even if my body is a little unreliable. I’m glad your travels went well and look forward to hearing more about them


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