Give Me Some Skcin: Skin Cancer Charity Boosts Awareness with Viral
When skin cancer charity Skcin wanted to raise awareness of the dangers of irresponsible tanning among young people, it turned to a mix of new media and traditional PR to get its message across. New Media Knowledge took a closer look.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer among 15 to 30-year-olds, according to national charity, Skcin. It is also a notoriously difficult age group to reach when it comes to educating people on the dangers of ultra-violet radiation (UVR) produced by the sun and tanning machines, so when the charity wanted to raise awareness among this age group it turned to its creative media partners.
Global advertising firm McCann Erickson London’s creative team came up with the concept of a fake company – ComputerTan – that claimed to be able to give consumers a year-round bronzed look simply by logging on to its website, which contained technology capable of converting a computer screen into an array of tanning UV lights, thus giving viewers a ‘tan’.
PR firm Limelight then invented a back-story for ComputerTan, an explanation of the technology involved and supported it with a PR and advertising launch.
An “infomercial” featuring fictional ComputerTan brand spokeswoman, Hannah Yasmin, was produced and seeded across thousands of websites. Influential bloggers were targeted from across interest groups from healthcare to lifestyle, beauty and technology, and ComputerTan’s hoax release was pitched to national and specialist journalists.
Interested reporters who called a fake enquiry line were told the truth and asked to play along with the spoof, explained Patrick Barrett, Limelight PR’s business development director.
“Our media relations strategy was to get journalists and bloggers to play along with the campaign, but early on we recognised this could not be guaranteed,” Barrett told NMK. “So our contingency plan, launched after two days, revealed the nature of the hoax. We supported the infomercial, which was shown on screens at 10 London Underground stations and in black cabs, with hoax tanning vouchers and an iPhone application.”
Within 24 hours of launch, 30,000 people visited ComputerTan.com. There were 215,000 visitors after three weeks, reaching 400,000 by mid-May with 1.5 million page views and an average visit time of more than two minutes.
The story was picked up most of the major national papers and was featured on 8,000 websites. Nearly 70,000 viewed the infomercial on YouTube. The campaign prompted The Sun to agree a partnership with Skcin, which will see the charity’s messages showcased in a series of features later this year. Traffic to Skcin’s website jumped 1,000 per cent, Barrett said.
“In terms of our take on why it was successful, ComputerTan made a connection with people because it was genuinely intriguing, even if you guessed it was a hoax you wanted to know what it was all about and who was doing it,” he concluded. “So the trick to it was creating genuinely engaging content that delivered a really serious message.”
The campaign took less than four months to create from inception to launch and, according to Skcin’s co-founder, Richard Clifford, the campaign used good humour to make a very serious point.
"More people die of skin cancer in the UK every year than in Australia. It is the most common form of cancer in young adults and is largely preventable,” he said.