Pass the Word: A Breast Cancer Month Awareness Campaign
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Holmes Report

Pass the Word: A Breast Cancer Month Awareness Campaign

Nearly two decades ago, few people talked about the importance of early detection of breast cancer and how it could save lives. In 1985 the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation changed all that when they established the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) Board of Sponsors.

Paul Holmes

Nearly two decades ago, few people talked about the importance of early detection of breast cancer and how it could save lives.  In 1985 the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation changed all that when they established the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) Board of Sponsors (BOS), an innovative model of collaboration around how to educate and motivate people to take action.  This 501(c)3 organization, now 17 national non-profit and government agencies, is the creator and force behind the annual national breast cancer education campaign. 

The core of the 2003 campaign was a TV Public Service Announcement (PSA) that focused on getting women to "pass the word" to friends and family about the importance of early detection of breast cancer with creative tactics intended to grab the audience's attention and motivate them to action.

The Challenge:

With a tight budget for a national outreach campaign, we realized we would have to solicit donations from a number of individuals and organizations in order to meet our ambitious objectives.  The unique TV PSA in clay animation and the accompanying educational program was accomplished with an extremely limited budget and the goodwill of the designer of the clay models, PSA director, musicians, distributors and other suppliers in addition to an educational grant from the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation.


Primary research was conducted and secondary research was reviewed and considered in preparation for the 2003 campaign.  Primary research included focus groups, interviews with breast cancer survivors, and discussions with experts from many BOS organizations.  Additional studies from leading government agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Institute of Medicine and others provided a wealth of supporting information.

Our primary research with focus groups made up of minority members, as well as key BOS members, indicated that a clay animation TV PSA and a campaign asking women to "pass the word" to family, friends and co-workers would achieve the major goal of NBCAM to get information to as many women as possible within our target audience.  The idea of  "passing" information to others fit perfectly with the organization's history of educating the public about breast health and breast cancer.

Secondary research shows that African American and Hispanic women are less likely than Caucasian women to receive annual mammography screening, and that women who are uninsured are far less likely to receive early cancer detection services than those with insurance.

The three main objectives of the 2003 campaign were to:
• Position NBCAM as a leader in breast cancer awareness and education
• Increase awareness of breast cancer and emphasize the importance of early detection among women, their families, and friends through a "pass the word" campaign
• Deliver three key messages:
1. If you're over 40 get an annual mammogram;
2. Do breast self exams monthly
3. See your doctor for routine checkups

The ultimate take-away message was early detection of breast cancer increases chances of survival.

Strategic Approach:

The primary strategy was to leverage media to reach out to our target audiences through a national campaign that would capture a diverse audience's attention.  We sought to leverage minority spokespeople, including patients, physicians and celebrities to deliver key messages to target audiences.  Additionally, a multi-media approach incorporating television, radio and print tactics was pursued in an effort to reach the largest segment of our target audience.

Campaign Execution:

TV PSA:  As the centerpiece of our campaign, we opted for a nationally distributed PSA that features two culturally diverse women who are breast cancer survivors and an animated pink ribbon character - all of which are brought to life through the art of clay animation. The TV PSA, designed to appeal especially to African American and Hispanic women, drove people to Web site and the CDC toll free hotline.

B-roll:  behind-the-scenes footage of the creative process was included in the PSA press kits. 

Audio News Release: an audio news release utilizing a medical oncologist, fluent in English and Spanish, was distributed to stations nationwide.  The 30-second message encouraged women over 40 to have a mammogram. 

Radio media Tour: a leading medical oncologist in the field of breast health and breast cancer hosted a two-hour radio media tour.  Several national and local outlets participated.

Radio PSA: a 30 second radio PSA by singer/songwriter Soraya, a young breast cancer survivor, garnered placements on CNN Espanol, La Maquina Musical and Viva La Raza!

English and Spanish Mat Releases:  these were distributed in order to obtain media coverage in smaller community papers thus reaching a broader audience.


As NBCAM's mission is to educate and inform the public that early detection saves lives, the organization measures the success of its program through audience impressions.  The overall 2003 NBCAM public awareness campaign garnered audience impressions totaling more than 192 million.  Specifically, the TV PSA and related campaign coverage garnered unprecedented attention for the organization and coverage on several key media outlets. Highlights from the entire program included:

The unique clay animation television PSA attracted nearly 7 million audience impressions from mid-September – through December 2003 airing over 950 times in 34 of the top 100 markets.

Response from stations has been that the evergreen nature of the message makes the spot timely throughout the year and they anticipate that it will continue to air for at least six more months and make it into the fall rotation in select markets.  Since the beginning of 2004, the PSA has garnered an additional 250,000 audience impressions.

Website hits to, which leveraged resources of all BOS members, topped 5.9 million in the first eight weeks of airing the TV PSA, a 50% increase over the same period in 2002.

English and Spanish mat releases on the “Pass the Word” campaign were placed in several small market papers, with more than 23.5 million audience impressions.

English and Spanish RMTs and a Spanish ANR were recorded with Dr. Generosa Grana, Preventative Oncologist, Cooper Cancer Center, which reached more than 11 million people in our target Hispanic audience.

A Spanish radio PSA was recorded with Latin, singer / songwriter, Soraya, which garnered placements on CNN Espanol, La Maquina Musical and Viva La Raza!, and radio networks, with a total audience reach of more than 15 million

Because of many in-kind donations from organizations and individuals committed to spreading the word about breast cancer education, and an educational grant from the AstraZeneca Healthcare Foundation, the total expenditures for this project were $140,000.  Without the generous pro bono services from the clay animators and post-production, the PSA project alone would have cost more than $100,000.

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