Girl vs Cancer: Sex and Cancer campaign

This striking advertising campaign by BBH London for the charity Girl vs Cancer uses a strong approach to make us think differently about life after illness

Founded by Lauren Mahon, Girl vs Cancer is a community-led charity that exists to empower anyone dealing with a cancer diagnosis or treatment. Its aim is to amplify the voices of its community and educate people about the cancer experience in all its forms.

Reflecting the charity’s mission to wipe away the stigma often associated with cancer, Girl vs Cancer and BBH set out to launch a campaign that tackled two taboo subjects: cancer and women’s sexuality. Up to 90% of cancer patients experience side-effects impacting their sex life, but over a third of women are given no information about this.

The creative team collaborated closely with women from the cancer community through a series of writing sessions and phone calls to create the campaign. The aim was to represent their stories in a way that felt uncompromisingly truthful – yet also sexy.

At the heart of the campaign was a provocative, defiant line involving a clever play on words: ‘Cancer won’t be the last thing that f*cks me.’ This powerful statement featured in billboard adverts along with cropped close-ups of sensual nude photographs depicting women who have had experiences with cancer and who were photographed either alone or with their partners. The photographer and the wider team were all women, and an intimacy coordinator was also involved to ensure the cast was comfortable on set.

The line ‘Cancer won’t be the last thing that f*cks me’ and the imagery combined to create compelling billboards that subverted the expected narrative around sex and cancer. The campaign also included a trio of films featuring women talking about their personal journeys with sexuality and cancer, and social media executions created in partnership with a group of illustrators and graphic artists including Anthony Burrill and Kelly Anna.

Launched during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the work prompted widespread conversation in the national press and radio, and among celebrities, NHS doctors and the cancer community. The exposure revealed a side of the cancer experience that has historically been hidden from view. The divisive campaign continued to prompt further discussion following an intervention by the Advertising Standards Authority, which banned the use of untargeted billboards featuring the campaign message and imagery.

“Every single woman in cancer care deserves to get the help they need but for myriad reasons often aren’t able to ask for it,” Helen Rhodes, ECD at BBH, said at the time of the campaign’s launch. “Our approach might make some people uncomfortable, and that’s fine – as long as it gets people talking. We know that’s the most effective way to kickstart change.”

Lee Tan, co-founder and CCO at Motel and a judge for the Annual Awards, explains why this campaign was picked as a winner:

Categories: Writing (Winner); Art Direction (Honourable Mention); Photography (Honourable Mention); PR (Honourable Mention)
Agency: BBH
ECD: Helen Rhodes
Creative Director: Adam Newby
Creatives: Lucy Johnstone, Grace Chambers
Producer: Georgina Kent
Assistant Producer: Sarah Coope
Art Producer: Pippa White
Retouching: Simon Goold
Designer: Isabella Cheung
Production Company: Academy
Editing: The Assembly Rooms
Post-Production Company: Coffee and TV
Sound Studio: String and Tins
Photographer: Katie Burdon
Girl vs Cancer Charity Founder: Lauren Mahon