Interview: Adam Garone

As Movember gains mo-mentum, Gemma Quainton talks to one of the men who started it all

Adam Garone
Adam Garone

Movember is enough to turn other fundraisers green with envy - with its combination of action, humour and a vital cause, it has become one of the most successful campaigns of recent years and has so far raised more than £184m in more than 20 countries for men's health and prostate cancer charities.

All of which is ironic because the campaign started life in 2003 as a social experiment, when a group of 30 young men in Melbourne, Australia, grew moustaches for fun, just to see what they'd look like. One of them was Adam Garone, co-founder of Movember and now chief executive of the charity.

He says he never expected it to become a global phenomenon. "We have been really surprised by how it has taken off," says Garone. "Every day I laugh to myself that my life has become about moustaches. But it is obviously about more than that - it's about men's health."

That first year ultimately felt a little pointless, he says, because they were not trying to achieve anything. "So the following year, four of us decided we should develop the idea so that it became about a cause," he says. "We were inspired by the women around us who were supporting breast cancer charities.

'Hairy ribbon'

"We settled on prostate cancer and created the tagline 'changing the face of men's health' - it has grown from there. We call the moustache our 'hairy ribbon', because it is the male equivalent of the breast cancer movement's pink ribbon." In the second year, he says, 450 men raised A$54,000 (about £35,000).

Garone attributes the growth of the campaign to the fact that the men who participate - or Mo Bros, as they are called - become walking, talking billboards for Movember and men's health for 30 days.

"Men are very bad at talking about their health and how they feel," he says. "But Movember has got men talking about and acting on their health on a mass scale."

He believes it's the fun factor and irreverent tone of the campaign that has the most appeal. Movember's promotional material is deliberately devoid of cancer-related statistics, which Garone thinks many charities rely on too heavily.

"You'll never see fear-based tactics from us," he says. "We use inspirational imagery and we find that to be far more engaging. You can have fun and do good at the same time. Who wants to talk about prostate cancer? Try to get a guy to talk about it without Movember - it's never worked in the past."

Charity walk fatigue

Garone believes that the charity's zany, left-field concept is what appeals. "Charity walks, runs and black-tie dinner options are a dime a dozen," he says. "People get fatigued. The challenge is to come up with a creative way to get people engaged with the cause that is also scalable."

Branding is another key element of Movember's success. The campaign creative is changed each year to keep it feeling fresh and relevant. Last year it focused on the 'country gentleman': this year's campaign is called Movember & Sons, and encourages men to share knowledge on health issues with friends and family members and to learn more about their own family health histories.

Garone says that social media is a crucial awareness driver for Movember. "We've got strategic partnerships with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Facebook approached us initially because it found that our target range of men aged between 25 and 40, who were lapsed Facebook users, were re-engaging with the social network during November. Movember provided them with new content and a story to share."

But it's not only men that the campaign targets; Garone believes that women have also been fundamental to its success. "Growing a moustache is obviously a mostly male pursuit, but it's important that women are involved in the campaign because, traditionally, they have a critical role in men's health," he says.

The Mo Sister programme encourages women to register on the website as team captains and recruit all the men in their lives to be part of their teams. More than 300,000 Mo Bros and Mo Sisters are signed up in the UK this year.

As November comes to a close, the charity will collate information from around the world and analyse how different elements of the campaign performed this year, before starting work on the 2013 campaign. It plans to develop its online presence next year to capitalise on its success.

"We're hoping to raise about £85m globally in 2012, which is more than last year," says Garone. "We are experiencing year-on-year growth - which is unheard of in the sector."


Five quick Movember facts:

- The Movember rules are: each Mo Bro must begin the 1 Movember with a clean shaven face; for the entire month of Movember each Mo Bro must grow and groom a moustache; there is to be no joining of the mo to your side burns or chin

- The UK has the most Movember participants in the world, while Canada tops the leaderboard for most money raised

- In 2011 over 254,000 Mo Bros and Mo Sisters raised over £22m in the UK

- To take part in Movember you don't have to reach a fundraising target. In fact, you don't have to raise any money at all. "We're not concerned about that," says Garone. "We want them participating and talking, because those conversations are changing and saving lives."

- Funds raised in the UK are directed to programmes run by Movember and the charity's health partners Prostate Cancer UK and the Institute of Cancer Research.

- Watch our video with Adam Garone and find out about his moustache history:

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