Advertising watchdog clears controversial Pancreatic Cancer Action adverts

The 'I wish I had breast cancer' press adverts prompted 121 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, which says they did not breach its rules

One of the controversial adverts
One of the controversial adverts

The Advertising Standards Authority has cleared Pancreatic Cancer Action’s controversial "I wish I had breast cancer" advertisements.

The press adverts, which featured people with pancreatic cancer saying that they wished they had breast or testicular cancer instead and were first published in February, were criticised by some breast cancer charities for being insensitive.

The adverts, which prompted 121 complaints to the advertising watchdog, went on to highlight the low survival rates for people with pancreatic cancer, compared with breast cancer and testicular cancer patients.

The ASA says that complainants, some of whom were cancer patients or knew someone who had suffered from cancer, felt that the references to other types of cancer implied these were not serious or difficult to deal with, which they saw as offensive and distressing.

But in a ruling published today, the ASA says that although adverts that seem to compare different types of cancer are "likely to be shocking and could potentially be upsetting, particularly for people who had experience of those types of cancer", they do not breach advertising rules because they are unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence or unjustifiable distress.

The ruling says the ASA recognises that the quotes reflect the genuine views of people who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and the text directly below the headline claims clarifies what is meant by them.

Ali Stunt, founder and chief executive of Pancreatic Cancer Action, said the charity was sorry if the tagline upset anyone affected by the cancers mentioned in the adverts, but once people understood their true message they would not see them as personal attacks.

"We are delighted with the decision by the ASA," she said. "Despite only nine insertions of the advert in the London and Manchester press, the advertising campaign attracted global interest and reached millions of people worldwide from the resulting coverage in various forms of media. It was the most influential advertising campaign for pancreatic cancer to date."

The charity reported a 260 per cent increase in visits to the symptoms section of its website since the adverts were run.

"The adverts provide a genuine insight into how it feels to be diagnosed with a disease that leaves you with very little hope," said Stunt. "Currently, UK patients face just a 3 per cent chance of survival, which is the lowest of all 22 common cancers."

The ASA ruling said that the adverts were no longer running and the charity did not intend to run them again.

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