Canadian Cancer Society looks past the disease

The organization's new campaign aims to get potential donors to think differently about the disease and the services it offers.

The Canadian Cancer Society is using more inspirational language in its latest campaign to show the impact its work has beyond treatment of the disease.

In one of the digital spots in the “Life Is Bigger Than Cancer” campaign, the camera pans back to reveal that a crying man who has undergone chemo is standing in front of his bride at their wedding. In another, a woman with esophageal cancer scars is met by her husband, revealing that they are getting ready for a night out. Each uses the tagline, “life is bigger than cancer.”

The videos launched earlier this month, but the tagline was part of a manifesto the organization first launched on social media on World Cancer Day in February. Paula Roberts, executive vice-president of marketing and communications at the CCS, says the idea took off right away.

“Saying to people, ‘you are more than your disease,’ really resonated,” says Roberts, who reports that the post had 35 times the engagement of similar posts the organization has done on social media.

Roberts tells strategy that the charity wanted to emphasize that, despite it being difficult and challenging when diagnosed with cancer, the organization is there to help patients along the totality of the journey to help them live life to the fullest.

“What we wanted to do is share a different story about what people might think of the Canadian Cancer Society,” she says. Despite its strong brand awareness, Roberts says the public is unaware of the broader range of services the charity provides, such as its support line, transportation services to medical appointments, as well as its government advocacy work pertaining to the dangers of sun and tobacco exposure.

The aim of the campaign is to drive users to the CCS website, so they can learn more about these services, make CCS their charity of choice and participate in long-running fundraising initiatives like the Relay for Life. Another goal is to increase average donation gift size, Roberts says.

Roberts says the sector is more competitive than ever, and that the charity wanted language that motivated people in a different way. This campaign “has no battle-ridden language,” she says, and eschews loaded language that implies people who succumbed to the disease “didn’t fight hard enough.” Campaigns in both healthcare and fundraising that use imagery related to fighting and war to inspire audiences have been a subject of debate in recent years – as have more positive campaigns – for the impact they have on  patients who are unable to “fight” due to the reality of their disease.

Roberts says that the organization is skewing a bit older and a bit more female with its target, as that’s where lots of philanthropic giving decisions are made, but that CCS wanted a message that’s relevant to everybody. “When you think of how one in two Canadians will be diagnosed in their lifetime, and you expand it to their whole network, you’re talking to just about everybody,” she says.

The Canadian Cancer Society worked with Grey on the campaign, having selected the agency following a competitive RFP with 10 different agencies last year.