Diabetes. Beware the silent assassin

This image is from the new Diabetes UK campaign. And I loathe it. I’ve been walking past a 48 sheet of it in Brighton for several weeks. The line is Diabetes. Beware the silent assassin.

Of course I understand why the charity went for scare tactics with a diabetes epidemic looming. Type two diabetes is not taken seriously enough. It’s a dangerous condition too, which if not appropriately treated significantly increases the chance of a stroke or heart attack. I’m sure the agency have done a good job in meeting the brief they were given. And I don’t doubt the sincerity of this effort…

But I hate it.

Why? Because it ignores basic psychology and employs the wrong-headed assumption that you can scare people into changing their behaviour. Remember all those years of anti-smoking campaigns? Made everyone give up smoking right? Er…

Who of us, at risk of diabetes or living with diabetes, will want to be portrayed as a prone victim? Instead this imagery is more likely to send people into denial -because it dramatises the fear, rather than the solution. In short it paralyses rather than empowers.

If the intention of this campaign is to motivate people to find out if they are pre-diabetic, or have diabetes, then is this really the way forward? All it tell us is that diabetes is more horrible than you think; that diabetes = sudden death.

And creatively speaking: the “silent killer” approach is very well worn. There are many asymptomatic (silent) diseases which are life threatening if left untreated, such as hypertension and high cholesterol. To really shock people you need to be original.

For my money, the most original advertising of this sort for many years was the incredibly successful oozing fat anti smoking ads by The British Heart Foundation back in 2004. It was unforgettable, and made the connection between arterial fat and smoking in a shocking and original way.

But I think this was the exception. The imagery for the Diabetes UK campaign just doesn’t surprise us, or make us see something we are familiar with in a new way.

I think Diabetes UK would be better served by a campaign that shows how you can stand up to this silent killer – and dramatises the solution.

And for the escalating number of people in the UK who have just been told they have this chronic medical condition, it is not helpful at all. The first step to regaining control of your life, and lessening the fear, is to understand what positive steps can be taken.

Not to be portrayed as a lifeless, prone victim.

By Peter Kenny

I lead a double life. Identity #1. A writer of poems, comedy plays, dark fiction and the odd libretto. Identity #2: A marketing outlier, working with London creative agencies and my own clients as a copywriter and creative consultant.

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