Cervical cancer ad catches the eye and raises a few eyebrows

Some mistake cervical cancer ad for a fashion one; others offended by it

"LIFT your skirt, save your life," urges a new advertisement by the Singapore Cancer Society to promote awareness of preventive measures for cervical cancer.

But the campaign appears to have raised eyebrows instead.

Public reaction to its posters, depicting celebrities in white dresses catching a rush of air from the ground, have varied from "catchy" to "obscene".

They have been put up at bus stops and train stations across Singapore.

Produced by advertising agency Y&R Singapore, the campaign is a portrayal of actress Marilyn Monroe's famous pose in the 1955 film The Seven Year Itch.

It features celebrities MediaCorp Radio 987FM DJ Rosalyn Lee, model and TV host Linda Black and 93.3FM DJ Siau Jiahui.

The campaign aims to encourage women to go for Pap smear screenings being provided for free by 178 clinics this month.

However, more than 60 per cent of the 80 people polled by The Straits Times said the advertisement was not effective in delivering its message.

Respondents commonly mistook it for fashion or slimming advertisements.

"Some women might think it is an advertisement for movies or fashion," said administrative manager Vivien Tan, 55.

Nurse Crystal Tan, 25, added: "Viewers don't know the consequences of not going for check-ups just by looking at the advertisement."

However, the ad caught the attention of 25-year-old saleswoman Cheris Chay, who said: "It is not too cluttered. It is good and catchy."

A quarter of the respondents felt the advertisement was offensive.

"Most people are saying, 'Oh, it uses sexual undertones to get attention, it's effective.' But just because it gets people talking doesn't mean it sends the right message," said Miss Yvonne Jin, a 21-year-old student.

The Association of Women for Action and Research agreed. Its executive director, Ms Corinna Lim, said: "It is a sad reflection on society that good causes also have to resort to sex to promote their message."

But a majority of respondents, 51 out of the 80 polled, approved of the message that the campaign is trying to send out.

"The advertisement asks people to take care of their health, which is important since cancer rates are going up," said civil servant Nicole Lee, 35.

Administrative assistant Desmond Liow, 24, said: "I initially found it slightly obscene, but since it's with good intentions, it is still acceptable."

Security guard Henry Chan, 40, said in Mandarin: "It's a bit far-fetched and most of us here are not so liberal."

The Singapore Cancer Society said it has been running campaigns promoting cervical cancer awareness for the past eight years but this is the first time it has adopted such a bold approach.

The society added that cervical cancer is preventable and its aim is to draw attention to its underlying mission of saving lives.

Brand consultant Marc Sim, 24, had mixed feelings about the campaign. "The line about Pap smears, which is the key point, is not prominent," he said.

Praising it for grabbing his eye, he added: "If it's too harsh, people will not want to look into it. For things to be viral, they have to be fun and catchy."

ceugene@sph.com.sg

ldebbie@sph.com.sg

ljoanna@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Sabrina Tiong, Lim Min Zhang and Cheng Jingjie

See: Dispelling myths about cervical cancer