Distilling the evidence about alcohol-related cancers
While alcohol consumption is a proven threat to health in Canada, it is also prevalent. Despite a decline in the 2021/22 sales volume of alcohol to an average of 9.5 alcoholic beverages/week per Canadian of legal drinking age, consumption remains high for a significant number of people, as does the risk of contracting related cancers of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, colon, rectum, and liver. In 2020 alone, alcohol use was linked to 7,000 new cases of cancer in Canada. Further, only a third of Canadians are aware that they can lower their cancer risk by reducing their alcohol consumption.
In January 2023, Canada’s new Guidance on Alcohol and Health was released. The new guidance reduces the maximum number of drinks for minimal to low risk to health from 10 drinks/week for women and 15 drinks/week for men to 2 drinks/week for everyone.
To provide B.C. residents with evidence-based information about the new guidance and to improve public knowledge about the links between alcohol consumption and cancer, BC Cancer, a provider of a comprehensive cancer control program in partnership with B.C.’s regional health authorities, was seeking a creative agency to develop and execute a province-wide, multi-channel, alcohol and cancer awareness campaign.
It would be the first media campaign from a Canadian cancer agency about the link between alcohol consumption and cancer since the new guidance was launched, and BC Cancer wanted to ensure that audiences didn’t feel alienated or judged by the campaign’s messaging. For many people alcohol has deep social and cultural roots—and the change would likely be confusing and unwelcome to some. After a comprehensive research and community engagement process, campaign strategizing, and the development of a website and interactive tools, we launched an effective, eye-catching campaign that got straight to the point: Alcohol causes cancer.
digital ad impressions
of people surveyed reported that they were likely to drink less after seeing the campaign
quiz responses to self-assess alcohol-related cancer risk
Understanding the campaign’s objective and purpose
In collaboration with the BC Cancer team and the B.C. Ministry of Health, we carried out a thorough research process, including a comprehensive background review of documents provided by the client, along with Canada’s new Guidance on Alcohol and Health, to ensure that we fully understood the campaign’s purpose and background.
Guided by our research and the data and insights provided to us by BC Cancer, we embarked on campaign concept development.
Ultimately, we presented three distinct campaign concepts to the BC Cancer team. The concept that was selected—The Proof—used attractive and modern imagery that the public would typically associate with alcohol brands and their advertising campaigns, juxtaposed with strong evidence-based messaging to communicate the evidence linking alcohol to several types of cancer and the total number of alcohol-related cancers in Canada.
Once the concept was refined, we conducted focus groups with participants from across B.C., soliciting feedback on a variety of potential campaign ads, which confirmed that the fact-based, non-judgemental tone of the initial mockups for the campaign assets was effective and approachable.
Based on the target audience for this campaign—residents of B.C. between the ages of 25 and 49—we used a digital-first strategy, relying primarily on Instagram ads that corresponded well with the visual elements of the campaign concept; paid content from content creators on Instagram; and programmatic advertising (i.e. digital advertising that uses automated technology, data insights, and algorithms to serve ads to the right audience at the optimal time and cost for the campaign). We also employed digital out-of-home tactics in areas frequented by the target audience.
Strategy and development
Partnering with content creators
In addition to running ads from BC Cancer’s Instagram account, we recruited and onboarded B.C.-based Instagram content creators to produce video content in support of the campaign. Working with these creators maximized the reach of the campaign’s message, aligned with the campaign’s goals, and uniquely and authentically engaged audiences.
The website features a quiz that allows site visitors to calculate and assess their risk of alcohol-related cancers based on their average weekly alcohol consumption, with the media campaign driving audiences to the quiz via a QR code and/or a URL.
Based on work with one of our Instagram content creators, we also feature a zero-proof cocktail recipe page as a tool the audience can use should they want alternatives to their alcoholic drinks.
Overall, The Proof website conveys evidence-based information in a non-judgemental, non-stigmatizing way, and takes a friendly, empathetic tone in providing useful “tips and tricks” to moderate alcohol consumption.
The campaign garnered a significant amount of media attention, including earned media, and generated considerable conversation on social media. Website traffic was strong, receiving over 37,000 website visitors, and we saw high engagement across the whole site. Our campaign digital assets outperformed expectations, with click-through rates six times higher than the industry average for a major digital network, and a strong performance on Instagram, where it reached 813,507 people and received 14,573 link clicks.
To understand The Proof campaign’s impact, Be the Change Group conducted an outcome evaluation based on analytics from all media channels, including digital and traditional media, and through two data collection processes: a pop-up survey on the-proof.ca and street-intercept (in-person) surveys.
We engaged a total of 275 individuals, comprising:
– 227 online pop-up survey respondents
– 48 in-person survey respondents
of online respondents who reported having “poor” or “fair” knowledge of the link between alcohol and cancer reported having “good”, “very good”, or “excellent” knowledge after seeing the campaign.
of online respondents reported that they would likely drink less as a result of seeing the campaign.
of in-person respondents reported that receiving a result of having a high risk for alcohol-related cancer from the quiz would encourage them to drink less.