Wed, Sep 12, '18

#Scicomm Campaign inspiration: Cancer Research UK's obesity campaign

Alex Cloney


At SCi25 HQ we’re setting out to recognise the professionals behind the biggest headlines in science, and to shine a spotlight on their role in driving change.

With nominations for SCi25 now open, here's some inspiration with some of my personal favourite science communication campaigns from the last 12 months.

These campaigns went on to have a life of their own, reaching a huge range of people that may or may not have heard about the organisations or programmes behind them before. Hopefully they resonate with you too, and will spark your memory of other campaigns that made an impression in you. If so, nominate them here.

I want to get the ball rolling with a controversial yet though provoking campaign from Cancer Research UK (CRUK): their obesity cancer risk campaign.


CRUK research showed that, despite obesity being the second most common preventable cause of cancer, and a risk factor in 13 types of cancer, only 15% of the general public were aware of the link.

CRUK obesity campaign research results



In February this year, CRUK launched a month long communications campaign to raise awareness of obesity as a risk factor for cancer. There was a concerted push on visual advertising, with posters on bus stops and billboards, as well as adverts across radio and social media aimed at the general public. This was supplemented by UK wide press coverage, and PR stunts, all linking back to a microsite with accessible information and evidence for the link between obesity and cancer, and resources for healthcare professionals.

Rather than rely on one single announcement, the press team worked on a series of stories that drew out different elements of the research and kept it in the headlines for weeks. From ‘Millienials will be the most overweight generation’ to ‘Call to tighten junk food advert rules after obesity link shown’.



Sometimes shock tactics are effective. The visuals of the campaign, including the arresting image of a cigarette packet full of chips and the recognisable ‘fill in the blanks’ billboards certainly drew attention. Playing to the fact that weight is often a taboo topic, and encouraging people to think about their own personal risks, made people really stop and think more than a simple announcement of the research would have done.

Cancer Research UK Obesity Campaign

The campaign was not without controversy. In fact, it faced an online backlash – accused of fat-shaming, which garnered as much attention as the campaign itself. Although, given the objective was increasing public awareness about risk factors, this probably actually helped to achieve that original objective if we take it at face value. In the following months, the UK government announced a new sugar tax and updated its childhood obesity plan – with much bolder aims than its previous iteration.


Check back later this week for two more of my favourite campaigns from the last year, and have your say by nominating the organisations behind your own favourites here.