GrabTaxi's cheeky campaign on cancer awareness backfires

It apologises after cancer survivors call #GrabitBeatit campaign insensitive

The tagline, "Love Boobs? So does cancer", was also plastered on cars running the app's GrabCar service to raise awareness about breast cancer.
The tagline, "Love Boobs? So does cancer", was also plastered on cars running the app's GrabCar service to raise awareness about breast cancer.PHOTO: GRABCAR SINGAPORE

A creative campaign by taxi-booking app GrabTaxi to raise awareness about breast cancer has seen the cheeky tagline, "Love Boobs? So does cancer", plastered on cars running the app's GrabCar service and on notifications sent to its customers.

However, cancer survivors and activist groups feel the regional campaign #GrabitBeatit, launched last week to mark the breast cancer awareness month, is a tad insensitive.

Ms Jolene Tan, senior manager for programmes and communications at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), believes it is degrading.

"Reducing women's value to their breasts is especially insensitive as some women need mastectomies to survive breast cancer," explained Ms Tan, adding that the campaign's hashtag presents women's bodies "as objects to be manhandled, normalising sexual violence".

"More focus should be on the women affected by breast cancer and their stories, not the body part which is affected by it," she added.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women here. Between 2010 and last year, more than 9,200 were diagnosed with it.

Sales representative Kelly Tan, 42, who battled Stage 1 breast cancer last year and is now in remission, said: "There is nothing funny about breast cancer, people die from it.

"I suppose they've succeeded in grabbing attention, but at the expense of victims and families."

A Stage 2 breast cancer patient, who declined to give her name, said the sexist take on a delicate topic does not reflect its seriousness. The 39-year-old, who was diagnosed in March, noted: "It is sexist, and in poor taste, but it may spur conversation about the cancer."

Other women feel that GrabTaxi has good intentions. Undergraduate Joanna Ho, 22, said: "It is a playful tagline. People are naturally curious and would want to find out more."

GrabTaxi has since apologised for the campaign, which aims to educate women on the importance of self-examination and early detection.

"There have been mixed reactions to our campaign, and we wanted to acknowledge those who were genuinely hurt by some of the campaign taglines," explained Ms Cheryl Goh, vice-president of marketing at GrabTaxi.

As part of the awareness drive, GrabTaxi has been raising funds for the cause via the sale of T-shirts with the tagline at $15 each, with proceeds donated to the Singapore Cancer Society. It is also offering $8 off rides to breast cancer screening clinics this month to encourage more women to get examined.

In a reply to The Sunday Times on Friday, GrabTaxi said it will not be making changes to the campaign and is focused on raising funds. But it declined to reveal the amount raised so far.

It endeavours to execute bold campaigns to promote a good cause, but added that it will be "socially aware and culturally sensitive".

Marketing experts such as Singapore Management University associate professor of marketing Seshan Ramaswami said humour perceived to be offensive can antagonise consumers and affect a brand, at least in the short term.

"Just look at the specific words used, referring to breasts as boobs, comparing presumably men's love for looking at or touching breasts with cancer, and the poor taste pun with Grabit," Prof Ramaswami pointed out.

"All that GrabTaxi could have done, really, once it realised there is a backlash, was to apologise immediately and sincerely.

"Its campaign seems to have got people talking about its tasteless ads rather than about the cause, so it cannot be argued that the outcomes were... desirable."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 11, 2015, with the headline 'GrabTaxi's cheeky campaign on cancer awareness backfires'. Subscribe