Ad campaign uses humor to fight colon cancer
By Elizabeth Cohen and Miriam Falco
NEW YORK (CNN) -- It's a bird. It's a plane. No, it's Polyp Man, and he's no superhero.
He's the villain in a series of public service announcements being sent out to television stations this week. Dressed in red tights and a bulbous red suit, Polyp Man runs from doctors in scenes reminiscent of "Cops" or "NYPD Blue."
"He's hilarious," said Dr. Harmon Eyre, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, which is sponsoring the PSAs together with the Advertising Council. "I like the one where he's in a woman's kitchen with his face smeared with food and the doctors come and chase him down."
The point of the ads is to persuade people to get tested for colon cancer. The tag line for the ad is "Get the test, get the polyp, get the cure."
Everyone over age 50 is supposed to get tested, but only about 44 percent actually do, according to the cancer society. The society estimates that half of all colon cancer deaths could be prevented if everyone got screening.
Even when polyps are benign they can turn into the perfect breeding ground for colon cancer.
The voice-over in the ads says, "Colon cancer almost always starts with a polyp. Get the polyp early and stop colon cancer before it even starts."
The comedic approach to a health issue is a dramatic departure from tradition. For example, in 1990, the American Cancer Society ran PSA's showing graveyard scenes to make their point, but the ads didn't work, Eyre said.
He says he hopes things will be different with Polyp Man.
"We've done focus groups by the dozens and people find it motivational," Eyre said. "They get the message and recognize it's colon cancer and are supposed to go to their doctor and get a test."
He said only about 10 percent of the focus group members objected to the ads for making light of a serious subject.
Dr. Durado Brooks, director of colorectal cancer for the American Cancer Society, said at first he had his doubts.
"When I first saw the concept presented I must admit the initial response was 'Oh my God, they must be kidding.' But when they described it to me, it had a bizarre appeal," he said.
After seeing the completed PSAs, Brooks said he was floored. "It was great to see the character come to life."
Depending upon a patient's risk of colon cancer, different tests are available. Some are fecal tests while others, such as a sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy, are invasive.
One aim of the ad campaign is to simply get people to start talking about uncomfortable subjects.
"There are a lot of barriers to getting the tests: denial, perceived discomfort. More often than not, it's embarrassing," said Bill Ludwig, chief creative officer of Campbell-Ewald Advertising, which came up with the spots. "I think Polyp Man will break through the barriers."
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Colon Cancer Alliance
Cancer.gov - Colon and Rectal Cancer Home Page
M. D. Anderson Cancer Center - Hereditary Colon Cancer
The Ad Council - The leading producer of public service ads (PSAs) since 1942
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