I think that we have to wonder, is this kind of advertising effective? That, of course, is the crucial question. The answer is, I'm not sure, but we should look into it. I wonder if something more imaginative would work as well. . . . Resorting to this language is certainly an indication we are baffled at finding new ways to promote the message.Matt Zachary, founder and CEO of I’m Too Young for This! Cancer Foundation argues that his foundation’s use of language is effective for its audience:
We still say “Give Cancer The Bird” and host our annual patient conference at a casino in Las Vegas.... We can understand how certain people may take issue with our tone but it is not our goal to please everyone. Our target market is the angry young adults of Gen-Y who’ve had their life uprooted by cancer. They need permission to be pissed and an outlet to express those feelings in a positive way. The key is to know your audience. We use language that connects us with our constituency and we’re very effective at both reaching them and impacting their lives for the better.Mr. Zachary’s claim about the effectiveness of his foundation is borne out by the tens of thousands of cancer patients reached by its information-filled Stupid Cancer Show webcasts and other programs. In the case of his foundation, provocative language catches the attention of young cancer patients but then draws them into a serious conversation. However, there are other foundations that have targeted Generation Y with a health message without resorting to profane language. The Truth, for example, reaches out to young people with an imaginative anti-smoking message that uses games and clever videos such What’s in a Butt? to reach its audience. (However, even The Truth sometimes hints at profane language, as in the title to its game Kiss My Glass. Perhaps it’s just impossible to target Generation Y without some of this language?) Dr. Forni suggested to me that there may be a line beyond which no foundation should cross:
There is a difference between saying cancer is stupid and uttering a profanity. . . . Whoever puts out a message for public consumption that reaches thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of people has an implicit responsibility to use the powerful tool of communication that they have at their disposal.Foundations like I’m Too Young For This Cancer! Foundation combine effective programming with language that provokes but doesn’t go beyond the limits of acceptability. On the other hand, foundations like F--- Cancer have gone too far—even if they were to offer a range of programs as effective as those offered by I’m Too Young for This! Cancer Foundation. The erosion of civility just isn’t worthy of the public’s charitable dollars. NOTE: This piece was updated on November 22, 2011, at noon EDT.