Seen the new Fashion Targets Breast Cancer "#BosomBuddies" campaign yet? It has had the very people it’s intended to benefit in somewhat of a rage. The brands at the heart of the collaboration – Marks & Spencer and River Island, among others – are being lambasted for creating yet another "pink and fluffy" campaign that doesn’t reflect the realities of people with cancer. To the well-intentioned teams behind it all, here’s some straight-talking advice direct from the cancery people – the people they should have involved in the first place.
1 If you’ve got a good insight at planning stage, make sure it survives production
Rachel Sullivan, head of content at M&S, posting on her personal instagram, said that the "#BosomBuddies" campaign, which invites people to "dress in solidarity", "champions friendship as a powerful force in the fight against breast cancer". It’s not a bad starting point.
The campaign launched, however, with a celebration of celebrity friendships, featuring the glossy "helpful friends" talking about how important they are to each other. Pouty behind the scenes stuff. No sign of anyone with cancer, though. Patronising. A tad self-congratulatory. And then there’s the copy. "Two is better than one" and "we are your bosom buddies", they say. This does not translate well when you've had a mastectomy, whatever the intention.
After a barage of tweets and instagram posts, this film has been taken down.
2 Put real people at the heart of the campaign
This is authenticity 101 (thanks to Dove). Real stories from real people. Include the actual friend with the actual cancer so we believe you.
At launch, buried on the website (and apparently due to be wheeled out later, like an apologetic reality check once the celebs had worked their magic to get people’s attention), were some videos featuring people who have or have had cancer.
Forty-eight hours post-launch, following some fast footwork, all celebrity videos have been deleted and the cancer stories of those affected by the disease are now front and centre on the website. Well done, peeps.
3 Want reach? Involve influencers in the cancer community
The cancer community is full of people with powerful, heart-stopping stories and real influence. We’re far more likely to buy a T-shirt if Lauren Mahon (41.7k followers) is wearing it, for example, or @thatmumwithcancer (14.7k followers). Everyone in the cancer community are hyper-connected to each other, hugely supportive, but also have their own micro-spheres of influence. Reach in.
4 What she said
BowelBabe points to the hijacking of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month and how brands are in effect just looking to breast cancer because it’s easy. Shit stinks and all that.
By the time this piece is published, most of the original campaign content will have been taken down. It’s a damaging example of how purpose-driven marketing campaigns can go horribly wrong.
It also shows just how powerful the cancer community can be.
The thing about cancer people, of which I am one due to a recent breast cancer diagnosis, is that we can be a tad angry. Diagnosis does that. You also develop an acute ability to sniff out the merest hint of anyone doing things to gain from your cancer. And, yes, we get that the intention was to raise money for life-saving cancer research, and I can well imagine the frustrations of the teams behind the campaign: "No! That’s not what we meant! It’s all about solidarity and friendship and raising money to save your lives. You don’t get it! This is for yooou!"
Stupid cancer people, eh…
PS Just one last thing about the T-shirts… We’re nearing the end of an astonishing decade for design and collaborations. If you’re going to create a T-shirt that people are really going to want to buy and wear, why not team up with an awesome designer, put an idea in it and make it cool?
Siobhann Mansel has previously worked at Karmarama and J Walter Thompson and now works independently with brands on purpose-led strategy and activation. She is currently recovering from mastectomy-reconstruction surgery