Cancer charity uses cheeky billboards to spread prostate message 

UK prostate cancer charity Prost8 disguises inner elbows as bottoms to raise awareness of less invasive prostate tests

Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer among UK males, accounting for 27% of all male cancer diagnoses. Each year it leads to around 12,000 deaths. Despite this, according to a 2021 YouGov survey, one in five men in the UK (18%) would be unwilling to have a prostate exam. In many cases men are put off because they feel anxious or embarrassed about the invasiveness of a rectal exam, the most common form of testing. However, this is no longer the only option. Now men can also be checked via a simple blood test taken from the arm. 

To raise awareness of this, prostate cancer charity Prost8 launched a series of provocative billboards, all of which at first glance appeared to picture close-ups of people’s backsides. However, with the double take that each poster merited, it became clear that what at first looked risqué was merely the crease in people’s inner elbows. Drawing attention to the new test, an accompanying message read ‘A prostate check isn’t what you think. It’s just a blood test taken from the arm.’

Created by TBWA\MCR, Manchester, The Other Prostate Check campaign featured five posters designs. All designs appeared on billboards across London during March 2024, Prostate Cancer Awareness Month in the UK.

Results Updated 13/05/2024: According to the agency, the campaign got 3.2 million organic impressions and 40,000 social reactions in just over two weeks.

Contagious Insight 

Getting cheeky / By using humour to address a serious and potentially anxiety inducing topic, Prost8 was able to remove some of the fear implicated in conversations around prostate cancer screening and raise awareness for a new test that could increase examination rates. 

Not only have studies shown that humour increases the attention paid to ads, but it has also proven to make messaging more persuasive. Specifically in the case of healthcare communications, researchers have found that humour can increase positive attitudes towards cancer examinations. For Prost8, humour was a particularly valuable tool to utilise because of its target demographic. As Lisa Nichols, executive creative director at TBWA\MCR, told Contagious, ‘Men can feel the need to portray themselves as tough and self-reliant, which can make them hesitant to admit vulnerability or seek help. Humour is particularly valuable at breaking down barriers surrounding sensitive topics. It's a universal bond that helps get the conversation going, making it much easier for men to engage and address any issues they may be facing.’ 

In December 2023, Contagious covered Specsavers’ The Misheard Version campaign which sought to address people's avoidance of hearing check-ups by re-recording an 80s pop hit with humorously misinterpreted lyrics. George Bryant, global chief creative officer at Golin, Specsavers’ PR agency, told us recently: ‘Humour removes barriers and walls. If you can use it, allied to purpose, you have a huge potential to welcome people in and get them to take action.’ 

Know your arse from your elbow / Out of home billboard campaigns can be easily ignored. There is often a short window for attention and getting a second glance can be a tough ask. By using images of people’s inner elbows and framing them as butt cheeks, Prost8 was able to ensure that people took a second look and, with that, drive home its message about the alternative prostate test. 

As Nichols explained, ‘Our ads needed to demand the viewer’s attention, challenge their misconceptions and then reward them with an educational twist. It gave us a real “have you seen this?” platform and as a result helped create shareability – hugely important when we want this message to spread as widely as possible.’

People naturally have a tendency to pay attention to things that stick out in our immediate environment. Known as the Von Restorff effect it means that anyone who encounters what they believe to be a huge image of a butt crack plastered on a billboard is sure to have their attention peaked. It surprises people for breaking taboos and crucially ensures people glance back, something a pull back and reveal campaign like this can’t function without. 

In Slovenia, Oncology Association for Men, Onkoman, similarly drew salience to its healthcare messaging by slapping the word ‘Sranje’ (‘shit’) on billboards in enormous, bold lettering. The unignorable text initially appeared without any explanation, only accompanied by a toll-free telephone number at the bottom of the poster via which people were encouraged to share their opinion of the ads. Two weeks later the phone number’s answering machine explained that the billboards were a cue to ensure that people don’t ignore the signs of gastrointestinal cancer. 

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