cancer ad

This print ad has sparked discussion about what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes advertising and brand awareness.

The “I Wish My Son Had Cancer” print ad was published in London’s Evening Standard, raising awareness for Harrison’s Fund. Harrison’s parents, who hope the ad’s boldness will catch people’s attention, established the fund.

Harrison is a young child with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, an extremely rare degenerative condition. Because the condition is so rare and barely known outside of the medical community, there are few efforts to raise funding or awareness about this disease. With no cure and barely any efforts to find one, Harrison’s parents published “I Wish My Son Had Cancer” to make an impact, hoping that similar attention given to cancer research might be shared with Duchenne.

While borderline offensive statements might not be the best content strategy for every brand, it certainly attracts visibility and attention. It allows brands to create and maintain a unique identity that consumers can easily recognize anywhere. Once the brand identity is established, new content must enhance that identity and continue to promote the mission.

Establish Personality

“I Wish My Son Had Cancer” isn’t your typical cookie-cutter newspaper print ad. The image, language, and ideas used quickly categorize the ad as one distinguished from other items on the page. Brands that go beyond marketing activities to really enrich their personalities are able to resonate with consumers. Even though it pushed boundaries, the ad for Harrison’s Fund strikes a chord because it relates to parents in an emotional way.

Be Compelling

With so many avenues reaching for consumer’s attention, the ones with compelling narratives are able to build a “big idea.” In today’s pop culture age where artists like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry utilize the shock factor, it’s often the most compelling narratives that get noticed by audiences. Be compelling through:

  • Social media. By engaging fans 1-on-1, you can be compelling without stirring controversy.
  • Consistency. You can’t demand attention unless you’re consistently posting content through your online presence. “Dead” social media pages don’t give users a reason to visit them.
  • Originality. While it’s always nice to see what your competitors are doing, be sure to spend most of your time developing your voice and brand image. Just as fan fiction is never as popular as the original source work, brands that have unique images and ideas attract online visitors.

What branding or advertising lessons can you takeaway from such a shocking ad? Do you think it is in poor taste?

Read more: Five-Year-Old Cancer Survivor Becomes Superhero for Wish