Since founding its research arm in 1946, the American Cancer Society has spent $4.5 billion on research to end cancer. It’s the largest nongovernmental funder of cancer research in the country, with a strong track record of scientific breakthroughs. That’s not all ACS does, either: the organization also gives patients rides to appointments, houses families during treatment sessions, operates a 24/7 support line, and offers other forms of direct patient support. But most consumers don’t know that. They only know about the research.
Last week, ACS unveiled a new campaign to change that perception. Under the tagline of "Attacking from every angle," the full-spectrum push aims to show the full range of ACS’s services, giving a new identity to a 104-year-old organization.
"Our previous campaigns were focused on cancer, and they didn’t bring to life the breadth of our services, which is our unique point of difference," said ACS marketing SVP Irma Shrivastava. "We were focused on the head, and we needed to connect with the heart, too."
Through multiple TV spots, targeted media placement, social promotion, and radio partnerships, the campaign connects ACS’s scientific identity more directly with the lives it impacts. It’s the result of eight months of collaboration with Dallas-based The Richards Group, which ACS brought on as agency of record in January.
The process began with consumer research conducted jointly between ACS and Richards. A narrative emerged quickly: consumers deeply trusted ACS and had a high level of confidence in its research, but they didn’t find many points of connection on an emotional level, or have much knowledge of it services for cancer patients or successful lobbying efforts on both the state and federal level. Stakeholders agreed that breadth and approachability were the key themes of the campaign. Through focus groups, employee surveys, and site visits, Richards Group creatives conceived of a rebrand that tweaked ACS’s clinical identity.
"We established that their personality is a bright, compassionate, relentless ally, not a cold, distant, huge corporate business," said Trent Walters, a Richards Group principal. "When people heard about all the boots on the ground work, they were like, ‘Wow, that makes me think differently and makes me want to be involved [because] I can see where my dollars are going.’"
Richards creatives included ACS scientists from the earliest meetings, a move Walters considered essential. Despite an adjustment period for very different teams to establish a rapport, this collaboration meant that the final product was both scientifically and creatively sound.
Shrivastava said this turned out to be the biggest, but most valuable, challenge of the process. "We couldn’t be in a situation where there were creatives talking down to the ACS team, because [the science side] is our proof point, our reason to believe."
The unifying theme, "Attacking from every angle" emerged in one of these early sessions, and Walters said the aggressive language was a surprise for his team. "‘Attacking’ has a negative connotation, but when it’s associated with the ACS, it’s a good thing. It’s what people want to expect from an organization like ACS, that we’re staying on the offense." It’s no mistake, he added, that it mirrors the kind of language that doctors use to talk about treatment plans—showing every angle of ACS support was the key goal of the campaign.
As the new spots and partnerships begin to reach their audiences, ACS is looking for three key metrics: increased donations, increased volunteer signups (they currently have almost two million on their rolls), and increased patient engagement. Shrivastava added that, already, it’s making a difference internally.
"This campaign brings to life an overall organizational lift, not only for the staff but our millions of volunteers," said Shrivastava. "A great campaign not just brings people in, but can excite and engage people who are part of the cause already."