Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Facebook pulls "threatening" testicular cancer ad

The ad Facebook won't allow.

Facebook pulls plug on ‘threatening’ testicular cancer ad

September 10, 2010Robert Cribb

Amid the countless racy images posted on Facebook, you will not find a Toronto Public Health ad warning of the dangers of testicular cancer.

The wildly popular social network website has censored the public service announcement for being a “threat” to its online audience.

When health officials recently attempted to place an ad on the website urging men to “check your package” for signs of the disease, Facebook officials took exception.

The advertisement, which features a male midsection alongside text urging men aged 18 to 35 to do monthly self exams, was deemed distasteful and “threatening” by Facebook officials, according to emails obtained by the Star.

“It is disappointing that Facebook, many of whose clients we want to reach, doesn’t see the importance of providing them with clear and effective communication,” said Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s medical officer of health.

“We can’t afford to be squeamish about an important health problem.”

In a written response, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company said that while it supports “creative and compelling” ad campaigns, “we must ensure that the nature of each campaign adheres to the policies and guidelines that we have set out.”

Testicular cancer is most common in young men, with about 900 cases a year in Canada and 30 deaths. With incidents on the rise, early self-detection is a vital message, said McKeown.

The city had hoped Facebook, with its vast and youthful subscriber base of more than 500 million people, would provide a cost-effective way to heighten awareness around the shadowy public health issue.

Toronto Public Health designed several different versions of the ad and tested the results in focus groups comprised of male university students.

The “Check Your Package” headline and image was the clear favourite, says Mary Margaret Crapper, a Toronto Public Health spokesperson.

So, the city made a $10,000 ad buy for a four-week Facebook campaign.

But once Facebook’s advertising department examined the ad package, the deal got sacked.

“Just got feedback from the policy guys — looks like ‘check your package’ won’t fly,” wrote Facebook ad operations employee Roger Lu in an Aug. 27 email to city staff.

“And we’ll need an image change. Is there anything else we can use?”

City staff pushed back in an email response saying, “That might be an issue on our end since this entire campaign is called Check Your Package and has the same exact image. Is there absolutely no way we can push this through?”

In a Sept. 1 email, Lu advised the city that following an internal “escalation,” the ad simply gave Facebook officials the willies.

The image “must not focus on a specific body part, particularly a man’s crotch” and the “Check Your Package” headline was “unacceptable,” the email reads.

Facebook also objected to the words “Men 18-35 are at risk” as being “threatening to the user and we don’t allow age callouts under any circumstance.”

In its written response, Facebook officials said they “worked closely with the Toronto Public Health officers to come up with alternatives and encourage them to advertise on Facebook to support their important cause.”

That included substituting the man-in-underwear image with a far less intriguing logo of the Canadian Testicular Cancer Association, replacing “Check Your Package” with the words “Be Aware” and making a complete rewrite of the copy.

“Please keep in mind that it is not our intention to change the content/message of your campaign, but to take steps to contribute towards the overall success of the campaign,” reads the email from Lu to city staff. Lu declined comment to the Star.

Those efforts at compromise undermined the agency’s carefully crafted message, said McKeown.

“We feel we’ve already done the work required to identify an effective campaign and that’s our business. Clearly, Facebook’s policies are a barrier to effective public health education.”

I am reprinting this from the Toronto Star's HealthZone section and am shocked that Facebook pulled rank and felt they had the right to dictate creative content for a Public Service Campaign. Firstly, this ad was well tested in the marketplace before it was ever placed in media. But the audacity of Facebook to deem this creative as being "threatening" is ridiculous and ludicrous. Especially when you see some of the Facebook user's own pages that have almost pornographic photos and sexually explicit content.

This juvenile site has no concept what constitutes good advertising yet alone a great idea, which I think this little ad is. Here is a not for profit agency trying to caution young men about a very serious cancer by speaking to them in their own language and using a smart tactical placement in Facebook where a huge target market would see it. It should have been a slam dunk.

What is alarming to me is the fact that the very generation who came up with the premise for social networking is completely blind to clever, meaningful communication. The youth of today is overfraught with "political correctness" to the overkill degree. Obsessive political correctness has snuffed out even the smallest glimmer of the ability to interpret and discern messaging that is creatively presented to them. Their world has been encouraged to be dull and dependent on others for creative enlightenment. The emphasis has been on social awareness to the extreme. Political correctness is a form of repression. And these kids grew up with it. It is all they have ever known. And now it shows.

My worry is this is just the tip of the iceberg. These kids believe social networks liberate them from not having to watch their every move or worry about uber-protective parents hovering over their every thought. But it is those very things that have stunted their abilities to think outside the box. Hence, great creative appears threatening because they weren't allowed to develop the cognative power to understand those kinds of messages.

Now we are talking about a generation who is handicapped.

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