A breast issue
In the past months there has been an aggressive print ad campaign in the Philippines on different types of cancer treatment being offered by the Guangzhou Modern Cancer Hospital in China. I counted at least 15 that came out in the Inquirer from May to June. I was told these also came out in other publications. These were half-page ads that cost a lot of money.
The ads showed happy people, mostly Caucasian-looking, enjoying life. A lot of fine print went with the ads. The text explained the types of treatment offered, among them, “intelligent photodynamic treatment as an outstanding representation of radiotherapy,” “the starving treatment,” the use of “radio-particle knife technology,” “photodynamic therapy” and “cryosurgery.”
The blurbs said it loud enough: “Late stage cancer: still treatable.” “Those who were sentenced to ‘await death’ gains (sic) a light of hope.” “Chinese doctors have successfully used cryotherapy to save lives of thousands of cases of advanced cancer patients.” “A miraculous needle inserted into the tumor to freeze it to death.” And so forth and so on.
The numbers to call were in big fonts. A Manila address for “free medical consultation-by appointment only” was also provided.
Names of doctors and patients were mentioned, successful cases were cited. Testimonials were presented. Sure, there were lapses in grammar and spelling but these could easily be fixed. The ads didn’t mean to shock or offend but to draw the readers’ attention. If you knew someone ill with or recovering from cancer, you’d mostly likely read the fine print and find out what’s new. All the ads—a different one every so many days—could be described as hard sell and hopeful.
But one stood out. This one was on breast cancer. There was no happy face on this one. The blurb said: “Choosing plastic breast-conserving surgery: Saving the Breast without Reccurence (sic).”
Some breast cancer survivors who read the ad took offense. Liza B. Martinez, a breast cancer survivor and a member of an advocacy group, wrote a letter to the Ad Standards Council general manager. Her letter:
“Dear Mr. Alcantara,
“We were referred by Ms. Emily Abrera of McCann-Philippines.
“I am writing in behalf of several breast cancer survivors. We would like to bring a complaint regarding the print ad of Guangzhou Cancer Hospital on breast cancer surgical procedures. This ad appeared as a half-page advertisement at least once in the Philippine Daily Inquirer about a week ago (see attached). We would like to request that this ad be pulled out from their advertising campaign and that our reactions be communicated to the hospital.
“We find the advertisement, its text and quoted testimonials on mastectomies, offensive because it associates mastectomies with ‘a life of poor quality’, worthlessness, ‘endless sadness and heavy mental burden’.
“Treatment of breast cancer involves several considerations and at times may warrant a modified radical mastectomy, or in some other cases, breast conservation surgery. They only mention radical mastectomy which is no longer routinely done.
“To instill unfounded fear and trauma in women who are undergoing diagnosis and treatment, for purposes of marketing and advertising their hospital, we feel is irresponsible and unethical. They perpetuate gender myths and stereotypes by making it appear that women who lose a breast (or breasts) are ‘worthless’. Despite the grieving associated with the loss of this part of our body, our breasts do not solely determine our femininity or sexuality. To imply otherwise is an insult to us as survivors, and women in general.
“We have nothing against educating women about options for treatment and making informed choices with their physicians. However, to present these medical options in such a manner as in the ad is reprehensible.
“Furthermore, as a foreign entity marketing its services in our country, we feel that the advertisers and the hospital should display sensitivity to its targeted local consumers. Are there any guidelines for these kinds of advertising campaigns?
“Thank you for your time and we look forward to your response and action.”
Excerpts from ASC’s A.G. Alcantara Jr.’s June 17 reply to Martinez:
“We are taking the necessary steps to put this material into a review process as part of the Council’s protocol whenever a complaint of this nature is submitted…
“For your kind information, the Ad Standards Council (ASC) is the advertising regulatory body composed of trade associations: Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (KBP), Philippine Association of National Advertisers (PANA), and the Association of Accredited Advertising Agency (4As) primarily responsible in reviewing advertising content to make sure that it conforms with the advertising Code of Ethics.
“We have started the investigation into this print ad as this was not presented to the Ad Standards Council for approval, hence no Clearance for Publication was issued. We will forward your complaint to the advertising agency or media placement company of Modern Cancer Hospital Guangzou and request them to respond to your letter, addressing the concerns raised. We are also elevating the complaint to the ASC Crisis Committee who will review and give recommendation/s to the ASC Board.
“We highly appreciate your feedback as it gives us at ASC the opportunity to review our guidelines for the upliftment of the industry and be cautious to the sentiments of the general public.”
By the way that ad also said: “Young women are more likely to feel shame as well as fear of relapse due to breast cancer than older women.” Why capitalize on shame? What is there to be ashamed about?
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