A fine example of a touching campaign

Candice O'Sullivan
February 26, 2015

healthcare campaign

One of the key aims of many health promotion campaigns is to change people’s behaviour. This was certainly the case when Cancer Council NSW launched the #itouchmyself campaign in 2014.

By turning Chrissy Amphlett’s famous song I touch myself into a breast cancer anthem, the organisation hoped to inspire Australian women to regularly ‘touch themselves’ (i.e. check for breast lumps each month) to improve their chances of catching the disease early.

Featuring some of Australia’s most popular singers, the remix of Amphlett’s song was released on iTunes, GooglePlay, SoundCloud and Spotify a year after the much-loved rock diva had, herself, passed away from breast cancer (you can view the video of the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FeaO2BrrIf8).

This beautifully produced video was supported by an online campaign, including a website (itouchmyself.org) outlining the importance of knowing one’s own ‘normal’ and how to self-examine for breast lumps, all within the context of Chrissy’s own experience with the disease and her ongoing legacy. Women were also encouraged to post itouchmyselfies on social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. TVCs, radio ads, individual singers’ mixes of the song and digital posters rounded out the campaign.

Despite the campaign’s relatively small media budget, 47% of Australian women had seen the music video within two weeks of its release and #itouchmyself quickly became a trending topic on Twitter. The campaign also garnered $7 million worth of free PR and extended its reach to more than 400 million people when it was picked up by international media outlets.

In my mind, there are a few reasons why this particular breast cancer campaign was so successful.

Firstly, the #itouchmyself line was extraordinarily – if tragically – serendipitous. Who would have thought it possible that a hit song could apply so literally to an artist’s life (and the lives of her audience) 23 years later? And who would have imagined that such a previously controversial song (it was originally banned from US radio) could be repurposed for such a serious healthcare issue, transforming ‘I touch myself’ from a woman’s naughty little secret to a life-saving act?

Sometimes in healthcare advertising, there can be a tendency to stretch the bow a little too far in an effort to make difficult subject matter both relevant and palatable to a mass audience. But in this case, the song’s lyrics fit perfectly with the campaign’s messaging intent – so the link between the two is both obvious and memorable. It’s also rare for a celebrity’s relationship with a ‘product’ to be so genuine. 

Why else did this campaign resonate so strongly with Australian women?

One reason may be that, unlike other celebrities, Chrissy Amphlett did not survive. Olivia and Kylie live on. But Chrissy – the bold, brassy, outspoken, seemingly invincible one – does not. If this disease can claim strong rock-goddesses like Chrissy who take on the world and take shit from nobody, then surely none of us is safe? And that’s exactly the Cancer Council’s point. No fewer than 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer before the age of 85. We can no longer afford not to be body-aware.

What also makes this campaign powerful is the way it brings together ten well-known Australian women in Chrissy’s honour. As individuals, these are women we ‘know’, respect and trust. Together, singing as one voice, they represent sisterhood: the idea that ‘we’re all in this together’.

The creative decision to shoot the artists in black and white, and naked from the shoulders up, manages to simultaneously convey defiance and vulnerability. This complements the message that by knowing our own bodies, we can play an important role in early disease detection; to an extent, we can control how vulnerable we are to this disease.

Finally, this campaign is not pink. Rather, it makes use of visual elements synonymous with Chrissy Amphlett herself. As such, it looks and feels different from every other breast cancer campaign we’ve seen in recent years – that alone is enough to make us sit up and pay attention.

In summary, this is a well-conceived, well-executed campaign with a strong and memorable call-to-action that draws the target audience in despite its confronting and sensitive topic.

But here’s the kicker: as much as I love this campaign, I first became aware of it just a few days ago, nearly a year after it was launched, which brings me to my final point. A marketing campaign, no matter how good, always represents a finite set of actions executed over a finite period of time. There are always people your marketing efforts won’t reach. However, the fact that this campaign still managed to find me one year on speaks volumes about its staying power and its ability to make an impact so long after the fact – a massive win for any marketer.

By Candice O’Sullivan, Director and Head of Strategy at Wellmark. You can also follow her tweets on brand strategy, content marketing and related topics @candicepill.

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