Campaigns to change public behavior often meet resistance. The UK effort to link cancer and obesity highlights the good and bad in provoking a little outrage. Brunswick’s Ben Hirschler reports
For the strategist behind a controversial campaign highlighting the link between obesity and cancer, Malcolm Clark had a surprising first job—as assistant to the managing director of a chocolate company.
It is an irony that says a lot about the complexities surrounding the sensitive subject of body weight and health. How do you inform people about the dangers of being overweight without coming across as a “nanny knows best” killjoy out to shame those putting on the pounds?
It’s not easy. Nonetheless, Mr. Clark and colleagues at Cancer Research UK (CRUK) took up the challenge two years ago with a hard-hitting campaign that delivered an emphatic message calling out excess weight as the second biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking.
It was designed to drive home the point that government and corporations must do more, through policy changes, to reduce consumption of foods high in sugar and fat. And Mr. Clark reckons his time in business gave him valuable insights into the industry’s thinking.
The CRUK campaign certainly made a splash. The decision to position obesity next to smoking grabbed public attention and the media went to town delving into the links between obesity and 13 different cancers. That was exactly what the cancer charity had wanted, since its research showed that raising awareness of an issue and getting it talked about could create an environment where policymakers are forced to act.