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.
- ‘It’s a massive shock to be told that you’re terminally ill, but there’s no point being sad…’ (manchestereveningnews.co.uk)
- Scientist urges women to run for cancer research funds (oxfordmail.co.uk)