How do we talk cancer?

By Owen Hughes

By 2030 there will be twice as many people in the UK living with cancer as there are today. (That’s four million people living with a cancer diagnosis, in case you were wondering. When you add in their family and friends, that’s a big number of people affected.) Strange as it sounds this is good news. We’re living longer as a population, and many people who would previously have died from cancer are now able to live with the disease. This is in no small part due to the pioneering research and treatments made possible by Cancer Research UK.

The bad news is that it presents the NHS, among others, with a huge challenge: in the face of flatlining health and social-care budgets, how on earth will all these people be supported?

Part of the answer to this is you and me. The burden on the NHS will be eased by treating more people at home but this in turn will squeeze social services, so in the end it will come down to more of us helping each other. To do this, we all need to be comfortable talking about cancer – not only because it increases the chances of early diagnosis but also because it helps those living with the disease cope better.

Cancer will be part of the everyday lives of millions of British households, so how do we minimise the fear and remove the mystery? How do we enable ordinary people to talk about cancer and seek help?

Like Harry Potter’s arch nemesis, cancer was once the disease that must not be named. The ‘big C’. This is a taboo which we were acutely aware of when we worked with Macmillan Cancer Support on their repositioning and rebrand in 2006. It’s a taboo which I feel Macmillan have gone some way to dispelling.

But of course it’s also a collective effort, which is why I was excited about the opportunity presented by Cancer Research UK’s rebranding. And it’s why I’m kind of disappointed now. Because their new logo is – a big C. And not just a big C, but one which to the untrained eye seems made up of cells coming together.

Apparently Cancer Research UK’s previous identity created the perception that the charity was ‘too clinical’ and ‘too scientific’. I’m not entirely sure that the new logo solves this problem. But of course the logo is only a small part of the jigsaw. A new, warmer tone of voice which – like Macmillan’s – focuses on the kind of language that people use in their daily lives will help enormously. And focusing on the heroes underneath the lab-coats is a smart move to add humanity to Cancer Research UK’s public face.

But what about how it all comes to life? I’d love to see how Cancer Research UK are going to engage new supporters and develop stronger relationships with current ones beyond the obvious leaflets, posters and mugs we’ve seen so far.

What are the digital, interactive, experiential dimensions of the brand? How does it behave differently now? To get beyond the ‘big C’ they have to think big and find new, innovative, inspiring ways to get people involved. And most importantly – to help people living with cancer today and in 2030 – they have to find a way to raise money and support without reinforcing our fear of the ‘big C’.

Let’s not go back, let’s talk cancer. Let’s say Voldemort and strike back.

Owen Hughes is Creative Director at Wolff Olins

Image via DesignWeek

  1. ride2conquercancer reblogged this from wolffolinsblog and added:
    An interesting take—and I wholeheartedly agree with Owen. In order to conquer cancer in our lifetime, we are going to...
  2. wolffolinsblog posted this