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ReThink Breast Cancer: “Save the Boobs” TV Commercial

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month so the press coverage and publicity around cancer related issues is increasing by the minute. Case in point is Dan Neil’s story in the LA Times this morning (September 22, 2009). The headline read: “Breast cancer ads use lechery for good.” Needless to say, I had to read on.

So here’s the deal: ReThink Breast Cancer, “a national volunteer-driven registered charity with a bold, enterprising and entrepreneurial approach,” developed the “Save the Boobs” television commercial to promote one of their fundraisers and to increase awareness of breast cancer among a younger demographic. The spot is outrageous, and I mean that in a good way. The spot features a very round, young, bikini clad woman strolling around a pool full of interested and excited onlookers (male and female). (The video is embedded below.) And the camera focuses intently on this voluptuous woman’s breasts. Then it delivers a powerful message: “Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in young women ages 20 to 49.”

The article makes the point that this is the kind of advertising that, if the same imagery were used in a beer commercial or for, would cause outrage (the bad kind) on the part of those who strive ardently to defend all that is politically correct. But because this is about breast cancer awareness, they don’t have a leg to stand on without looking like morons.

Here’s an excerpt from Dan Neil’s article in the LA Times:

Also, this ad — and a couple more like it — represent one of the few occasions when the male tendency to objectify the female body is put to good use, as opposed to selling beer and premium football cable packages. They seem to answer a question that must have nagged breast-cancer-awareness advocates: How to get men to care? With rare exceptions, men don’t suffer from breast cancer. The earnest, sad-violins spots invoking moms and grand-moms of the past probably haven’t gained much traction among men.

Feminist film theory has a name for the camera’s eye here: The “male gaze,” which is to say, the camera’s view is that of the male spectator and unseen protagonist regarding the female as an object (cf. Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”). This is the camera’s-eye of pornography and it’s inherently misogynistic. The “Save the Boobs” spot spoofs the male gaze and turns it into something positive. (Source: “Breast cancer ads use lechery for good,” LA Times, September 22, 2009)

Watch the spot and let me know what you think. Is this good advertising? Effective advertising? Are you offended? Speak up. I’d love to hear our opinion.

Post by Dan Dunlop, The Healthcare Marketer

18 comments on “ReThink Breast Cancer: “Save the Boobs” TV Commercial

  1. It is a fairly good commercial. While I appreciate the intent, I think a more realistic approach would encourage women young and old to examine themselves regularly. The REAL picture of breast cancer would have more of an impact. A bikini clad, beautiful, shapely woman with no breasts. It is easy to walk around men showing off your beautiful breasts but if you are not proactive, cancer can destroy that perfect “picture”. There is a commercial showing a classy woman after reconstructive surgery. That message is encouraging telling us we can still look great after reconstruction; however, if we saw the scars/result of breast cancer, maybe the visual would shock us into a more proactive lifestyle.

  2. As a mom of teenaged boys and girls, I am not particularly thrilled with any comercial depicting women’s breast as the object of admiration. I agree with Pam that the message should be a proactive one of self-exam and mammogram and awareness that the disease can strike any age.
    Maybe the same message, only a little “classier”.

  3. It got your attention, didn’t it? It’s a powerful message, that turns the tables on those “go Daddy” type ads. A bit tongue in cheek but packs a punch.

    I happen to be doing my Master’s thesis on breast cancer communication (although advertising isn’t part it). Given the target demographic it’s probably OK – but if you wanted to reach women 40+ there would need to be another approach.

  4. I agree with comments made by Pam and Theresa. However, I think the commercial is relevant to the degree it should be considered as only one in a series of commercials or a commercial depicting progression of the pathology such as the popular anti smoking video.

  5. What a shame; this commercial is in such poor taste; breast cancer is serious; it is life threatening; it is not something to mock; i believe this commercial, as much of society advertising, demeans a woman…a body part our creator meant to supply milk for our babies is marketed to be nothing more than a sexual arousal for man. This is in such poor taste. I am extremely disappointed in whoever thought of this commercial. I suppose they have no better ideas or thoughts, so sleeze is what they’ve lowered themselves to….Maybe someday they will get breast cancer and let’s see how funny they think that commercial is….

  6. While I am not offended by this commercial I do think it diminishes the seriousness of the subject.

  7. Robin Segbers

    As a brand planner, and a mother of two teenage daughters, I think this commercial will get the attention of young people. This will likely make breast cancer relevant to an audience that pays very little attention to health issues and concerns. Relevance to the audience is critical to any communication – even if other audiences are unimpressed. I think this campaign shows an understanding of young people – even if it appears superficial.

  8. Sometimes health care advertising is so serious. We find it difficult to use humor when we’re discussing life and death. However, scare tactics don’t work either. It turns off the audience more often than it helps.

    I agree with Robin. This campaign will catch the attention of an audience who typically doesn’t think about their health–but should. Younger women are being diagnosed with cancer and need to pay attention.

  9. Respectfully speaking, wake up! Open a magazine or turn on your television sets and you’ll see that vanity motivates people-young & ‘old’-to take action. Why not use it as a tool in the advocacy bag of tricks?! From mags like Maxim, to TV shows like Real Housewives, Rehab @ Hard Rock Hotel, or any celebrity runway or music video, both men & women take notice & an interest. As a 39yof I am at the upper tier of this demographic; however I am concerned with my health AND my appearance – and so is my husband. This commercial held his attention until the message was delivered. Our laughter about the content led to further dialogue re: the serious nature of the disease & its impact on our friends & family members. We all know someone affected by this disease. Isn’t that the idea? To get people thinking & talking (then progress to action) about it? I thought it was great and hit the mark! I too would like to see it progress with additional segments. As much as that demographic is into reality-type TV shows, a series could be a real winner! My husband & I will be watching (& talking with our friends)!

  10. This commercial shows no understanding of anything. First of all, what is the strategic goal here? To get young people to donate money, in this economy, when they don’t even HAVE any? Not happening. To get young women to have mammograms? They’ll have one when their doctor tells them too, which happens around age 35. Basically, all it does is get young guys turned on and then bum them out at the end. A lot of sex with a dollop of potential death throw in. What are they supposed to do with that?

    What the commercial DOES reinforce is our culture’s obsession with large breasts. Witness the cutaway to the more modestly endowed girl staring enviously at the more pneumatic one. The message to a young woman is I am inadequate because my breasts are too small. Society already does a pretty good job with that message. Do we really need to reinforce it? And what if you are a young breast cancer patient and you see this spot? The message to YOU is I will cease to be attractive to men if I lose my breast. Much more of a concern to a younger woman with breast cancer than one in her 40s or 50s who is in a long-standing relationship, so lets make sure we twist the knife a little to make her feel worse.

    Then there’s the matter of save the boobs. Nice hierarchy. Save the boobs and, oh yeah, there’s a woman underneath them. Guess we better save her too.

    The real boobs here are the creative team that came up with this.

  11. Pingback: Volatile Reaction to Breast Cancer TV Spots « The Healthcare Marketer

  12. I am not offended. Though the sailor boys are over the top and obnoxious. I think getting men to “care” about a subject that certainly does effect them – with their relationships with mothers, daughters wifes and friends but is rarely a life risk is goal worth pursuing . So right on about the message – though as a professional I am afraid it is lost in the implementation of this spot. But hey the buzz is huge, the youtube is hot – so mission accomplished.

  13. Laura Zobkiw

    Ok — so, when do we see the “Protect the Penis” campaign in support of Prostate Cancer Awareness ;0)…I’m all for gender equality in advertising, if this is the direction we’re headed!

  14. I’m with Leslie and Melinda. Shock value is the greatest conversation starter, so why not let it start a conversation about a serious issue. Some say tasteless, I say Great!

    Like it or not we are living in a very sexualized society. The serious ads have been done. It touches your heart to hear of the hardships, but are you talking about it at the watercooler the next day? Are you posting comments on a website about it? Nope!

    I would never search out a serious commercial online, but when I saw the clip on the Jay Leno show, I got a kick out of it and wanted to post it on my facebook page. I’m a 23 year old woman, and knowing the mind of a 23 year old guy…if that doesn’t put the issue in their face, nothing will. (not to mention getting the attention of women)

    My grandmother was a breast cancer survivor so I do not take the subject lightly. I think it’s important for women to be informed about breast cancer, but it sure doesn’t hurt if men jump on the band wagon to help prevent it. Humor is sometimes the best way to deal with an uncomfortable subject. For many cancer survivors….humor is what keeps them going.

    Bottom line: This ad is coming from a good place. Instead of getting on your moral high horse, appreciate that this is making a younger generation talk about something they most likely would not have been talking about.

  15. gaelenscafe

    I’m not offended – but I am misdirected. I agree with Freddie; this spot misses the mark. It isn’t going to ‘generate interest’ or donations or even conversation among a demographic with minimal cash (young adults) and it doesn’t give them a non-financial alternative (get checked! be proactive!) It does reinforce the big-is-beautiful myth of female beauty in all of the ways Freddie described. It’s only good advertising if it gets EVERYone talking, and it’s not going to do that. The Dove inner beauty ads did a much better job of educating and raising awareness without reinforcing stereotypes and being obnoxious. Breast cancer awareness advocates looking to hit the same mark could have, should have taken their cue from the Dove ads, rather from beer commercials.

  16. Dan,

    This is a case of the messenger shooting the message!
    Most viewers focus on the breasts, not the cancer prevention/identification message. While the content and approach seem to target adolescent to still adolescent men 24-40, the overtly sexual innuendo of the derriere and wet tee shirt kill the message.

    The issue and the target remain firmly entrenched with women and women’s health advocates. Until both genders identify with the loss of the woman and not the loss of the breasts or sexy object, the message is misdirected.


  17. I Personally just think that overall, its sad that advirtisement has to turn to This kind of advirtising!…focusing on sexual body parts to capture attention. I’ve seen gear that says these “save the boobies” slogans. and it just goes to show that breasts, sex, sexual apperance is the only thing they men care about (if it captures there attention, since I THINK it is directed to that group)…it stresses the “importance” of those aspects And not the fact that this cancer is life threatening and serious. Really, i find it sad that this is how society and the thought process works now’a’days. i definitely agree with this commerical if it like previous responders have said…a women with out breasts and scars in place..NOW, i think That would be more influential.

  18. of course we can always prevent cancer, the key is early diagnosis and early treatment `,’

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