Rethink invigorates breast cancer cause

MJ DeCoteau wanted to get involved with a breast cancer charity. Her mother had passed away from the disease, so she actively set out to find out about the cause. Notwithstanding her enthusiasm, she wound up disappointed by what existing organizations had to offer, as she felt her own lifestyle didn't fit their personalities.

MJ DeCoteau wanted to get involved with a breast cancer charity. Her mother had passed away from the disease, so she actively set out to find out about the cause. Notwithstanding her enthusiasm, she wound up disappointed by what existing organizations had to offer, as she felt her own lifestyle didn’t fit their personalities.

‘There didn’t seem to be anything out there that I was really reacting to,’ she explains. ‘Obviously my life changed when my mom died, but the core of who I was didn’t.’ DeCoteau adds that, while she was interested in alternative film, music and fashion, ‘what was out there in terms of breast cancer information was medical and overwhelming, or cute, cuddly teddy bears.’

But her frustration wasn’t for naught – it culminated in the conception of a new organization called Rethink Breast Cancer, which she founded 11 months ago along with director of communications and marketing Alison Gordon-Farber. The start-up’s focus on fundraising – it plans to raise one million dollars in its first fiscal year – will aid up-and-coming researchers and provide training for new investigators, as well as educate consumers about the disease.

It is also associated with other breast cancer charities, specifically, Big Bam in New York, which partnered with Rethink on its self-exam booklet, and Breakthrough in the U.K., which has acted as a mentor. DeCoteau and Gordon-Farber met at Toronto ad agency Zig where they worked on the Breast Cancer Society of Canada account, and witnessed public reaction to last year’s infamous ‘Cam’s breast exam’ ad, in which a teenage boy offers to examine women’s breasts for free. ‘We knew we believed in using humour and edgy, creative messaging,’ says Gordon-Farber. ‘When the spot got out there, it was obvious that people were craving new life and energy in the breast cancer movement.’

With new marketing initiatives on the horizon, such as a Web site, a breast self-exam pamphlet, a PSA and hip fundraising parties, the duo plans to generate a brand personality that is ‘youthful-minded, bold and energetic.’ The objective is to stand out in today’s jumbled environment.

Says Gordon-Farber: ‘People are bombarded with messages to buy things, to donate things, and they see images in the news about people dying. Why are they going to take an interest in breast cancer over anything else? We felt there was a way to break through, just as Nike finds a way to break through, or Toyota does.’

It all started with the organization’s visual identity, which revolves around circles in hues based on those of different skin tones. ‘It looks like Stila cosmetics – it’s modern and minimalist,’ says Gordon-Farber. Invitations to fundraising events are also circular and in flesh tones. In fact, they are shaped like breasts – complete with nipples – and have catchy coverlines, such as ‘We want you to keep both of these.’

The visual characteristics will be carried over to the Web site, which is being produced by Toronto-based Oxygen Design and will debut in spring. Unlike other charity portals that tend to have volumes of information on the home page, Rethink’s online strategy is to be eye-catching and modern, in hopes of reaching today’s media-savvy generation.

‘This site will look more like the sites that you normally visit during your day, like Style.com,’ explains DeCoteau. ‘Just because it’s important health information, why should it look different and be such a different experience?’

The site will be interactive, presenting online forums where users can approach nutritionists and yoga instructors for advice.

Rethink has also hooked up with Revlon, which will sponsor a Web launch party in Toronto, and also run a promotion on the charity’s site. The cosmetics giant will give away a $50 package every week for 30 consecutive weeks once the site is up and running. ‘We’re trying to bring glamour and excitement to the breast cancer cause,’ says Gordon-Farber, who adds they are also looking for ways to expand the relationship for fall.

Just as the ambition is to appear distinct from other charities on the Internet, Rethink’s breast self-exam cards appear to be a far cry from the usual fare delivered by more traditional organizations. Again, DeCoteau utilized her own personal experience as a barometer in this case.

‘Here I was, someone with a heightened risk for breast cancer, and I’d go to health fairs and pick up all the pamphlets. But they would be overwhelming and wouldn’t motivate me to take the next step.’

Unlike the typical pamphlets crammed with dense medical instructions on recycled accordion paper, Rethink’s Big Bam self-exam booklet is shaped like a music CD – the charity is currently in talks to distribute them through a music chain – and is vibrantly colored, with edgy, modern graphics, as well as the pertinent details.

‘We’re passionate about the fact that you could disseminate the information in an interesting way,’ points out Gordon-Farber. ‘I think that’s been our key marketing objective, to make sure it’s fun, accessible and upbeat.’

The PSA, to be completed sometime this year by Zig, will also be groundbreaking, not unlike the Breast Cancer Society of Canada ‘Cam’ spot, promises Gordon-Farber. ‘The goal will be to continue to support our brand, which is innovative and put out the important message in a bold way.’

Meanwhile, on the fundraising side, Rethink will continue to host parties at hot spots and give them an energetic, urban feel by aligning with the fashion, music and art industries, as it has done in its first year. For instance, this past November, the charity arranged a fashion party at the club Revival, on Toronto’s trendy College Street, featuring the Mod Club, (an up-and-coming DJ group); a runway show with funky clothes supplied by the city’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre and martinis stirred up by Bacardi.

The event lured 600 guests, and according to Gordon-Farber, it hasn’t been too difficult to find sponsors either, because youthful brands realize Rethink delivers their core target group of young-minded women under 40. ‘Our brand speaks to a lot of others, which allows us to do more,’ she says. ‘They look at our psychographic and realize there’s synergy between us.’

Elspeth Lynn, a co-CD at Zig, believes Rethink fills a void, particularly among women under 50, who wouldn’t heed cuddly-teddy-bear messages. ‘In order to get their attention within our society nowadays, we need to stop speaking to them in clichés and we have to talk to them as real women,’ she says. ‘I don’t know if people listen to the old traditional ways of communication.’