Kirsty Marrins: Macmillan's new campaign aims to show that #lifewithcancer is still life

The videos and ads are based on the knowledge that most people with cancer don't want the disease to define them

Kirsty Marrins
Kirsty Marrins

Moving, hard-hitting and true to life: that’s what I thought when I was given early access to watch the series of Macmillan Cancer Support’s latest brand campaign adverts. It launched Life With Cancer last week, which replaces its Not Alone campaign and aims to reflect the reality of living with cancer.

The new campaign is based on the insight, from a Macmillan and YouGov survey, that 85 per cent of people with cancer don’t want the disease to define them and that life simply goes on. They might have cancer, but they are still a dad, a sister, a mate, a lover.

The adverts don’t shy away from the physical realities of having cancer – from losing hair and fatigue to throwing up after chemo treatment – or the emotional realities of facing up to an uncertain future. However, there is one clear and important message that runs throughout the campaign: life with cancer is still life.

Kate Barker, director of brand at Macmillan Cancer Support, says, "At Macmillan, we know cancer can affect everything. Your body, your relationships, your finances – everything. We want everyone living with cancer to know that Macmillan is here to help people live life, no matter what. We give people the support they need to hold on to who they are and what’s important.

"The idea behind our new campaign came from the insight that most people with cancer don’t want to be defined by the disease. Life With Cancer examines what ordinary life looks like when you’re living with a cancer diagnosis. While we’re not shying away from showing how tough cancer is, we really want to highlight that, for people with cancer, the other parts of their lives continue – a mate with cancer is still a mate, a dad with cancer is still a dad. Cancer can’t take that away. Ultimately, it’s a campaign about hope, because we believe that, with the right support, life with cancer can still be life."

The integrated campaign comprises four TV adverts, radio adverts, social media and out-of-home advertising, such as on the barriers at major train stations.


In just two weeks since it was launched, the videos have reached more than 12 million people with about 350,000 engagements and a million video views on social media. The featured video on the charity's Facebook page, which is the one of the dad reading to his little girl, has been viewed more than 24,000 times. The comments below it show just how much it resonates with people, with many calling it "powerful" and depicting "the reality of cancer".

Like many campaigns these days, it also has a user-generated element, encouraging people with cancer to share their own #lifewithcancer moments across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. All of these amplify the message that life with cancer is still life.

Kate says, "We’re really pleased with how the campaign’s going – we’ve had so many messages from people with cancer saying the campaign feels like an authentic portrayal of their lives. It’s so inspiring seeing how people are using the #lifewithcancer hashtag to share their own moments: we’ve had some brilliant photos, from people skinny dipping and horse riding to simply feeding their children."

The brand campaign will be running for a full year, so expect to see #LifeWithCancer messaging appearing across a lot of Macmillan campaigns, including its fundraising activity.

I don’t think this campaign is ground-breaking or even particularly innovative – there does seem to be a trend towards these documentary-style campaigns – but I really like it. I think it’s important that charities don’t show only the fluffy, warm-feeling style messages, but also the gritty ones. I will be interested to see how this new campaign is rolled out into the Macmillan fundraising activity over the coming months and the impact it will have on how much is raised.

Kirsty Marrins is a digital communications consultant and a trustee of the Small Charities Coalition

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