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It’s World Cancer Day: Here’s A (Non)Harebrained Way To Celebrate

Why #nohairselfies work.

It’s World Cancer Day: Here’s A (Non)Harebrained Way To Celebrate
[Top photo: upthebanner via Shutterstock]

February 4 marks World Cancer Day. It is a day when millions of people worldwide celebrate and commemorate those that have survived and perished in the fight against cancer. And despite the incredible advancements in research and treatment, there were over 8 million deaths globally last year and it is estimated that over 14 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in 2015.

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Given these realities, and the fact that cancer touches pretty much of all us through one or two degrees of separation, the need for funds and the potential to raise them is more alluring than ever. The problem is that the charity fundraising space is fiercely competitive and finding clever, engaging ways to breakthrough is no easy task.

That’s why the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation which recently launched #NoHairSelfie, a digital fundraising campaign asking people to support cancer research and show their solidary for the hundreds of thousands of people who undergo cancer treatment in Canada every year.

The basic premise of the campaign is threefold: (1) shave your head on World Cancer Day (there is a virtual shave for those less committed); (2) share your #nohairselfie with your social network; and (3) donate/fundraise. While the actions themselves are not new, the components put together make for a good campaign. Here’s why.

Solidarity: The core action of shaving your head is a direct and significant show of support for someone close to you (or yourself) who has lost their hair battling the disease. It is an undeniable act of solidarity and commitment that makes the ask for money meaningful (it’s not dissimilar to charitable walks or runs in this way).

Simplicity: Anybody can go hairless. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, young or old – you can even be bald and take a #nohairselfie. And unlike marathons or other fundraising events, there’s no training required and minimal time commitment. It also requires a lot less infrastructure than traditional walks, runs, or rides.

Fun: The visual of your friend or sister with their #nohairselfie can be fun, funny, and even shocking, lending itself well to social media. The virtual shave, while less powerful than the real shave, is a necessary component for those that want to take part in some way and provides a nice bonus for those who have never seen themselves hairless.

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While the results of the campaign are not in, I can’t help but wonder if it would have been more successful had it gone with a different tone. I understand the desire to have some “fun” with a serious issue (a legitimate way to engage in social issues) but they may have gone too far. Using the “selfie” trend for this campaign feels a bit too cute relative to the significance of World Cancer Day.

But it may have been more powerful had they substituted the “selfie” for a deeper behavioral insight in the target audience that they could have leveraged; finding an action the audience likes to do or is looking for an excuse to do, and giving them permission in fun and creative ways. This is the brilliance of Movember. It tapped into a simple behavioral truth–all guys at some point in their lives want to grow a mustache–and gave them a reason (supporting men’s health) to do it. If #nohairselfie had found and leveraged its human truth I think it would have made for a more powerful campaign.

Key take away: #nohairselfie has many of the key ingredients that make for a successful campaign and should be applauded and copied by others in the cause marketing space. But if you want your campaigns to achieve the holy grail of scale and longevity, it is paramount to find and push the behavioral button in your audience that gives them the desire and/or excuse to engage with you over and over again.

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About the author

Phillip Haid is the Co-Founder and CEO of PUBLIC Inc., a Toronto based cause-marketing agency and incubator that believes profit & purpose should go hand-in-hand. PUBLIC is working with corporations and charities across North America to redefine “social good” and bring a new approach to cause marketing.

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