I Wish Team Darwin Had Some Class To Go With Its Pancreatic Cancer Campaign

The controversial pancreatic cancer campaign has surely raised the profile of  the disease.  More people are probably aware  of its grim prognosis and why it’s imperative to avoid a misdiagnosis that consumes valuable time.

My sympathies go out to pancreatic cancer sufferers. Our understanding of their disease has remained about where it was 2,500 years ago. In his “biography of cancer”  Siddhartha Mukherjee contrasts the progress made in breast cancer vs. that of pancreatic cancer. The Persian queen Atossa had a primitive lumpectomy in 2500 BC. in 1890, she would undergo a radical mastectomy. In the early 20th century, she would try radiation; in the 1950s, a localized mastectomy plus radiation. In the 1970s and 1980s, she would try new therapies. And in the 1990s, genome sequencing would have targeted what mutation Atossa carried.

But, Mukherjee noted, if she suffered metastatic pancreatic cancer, her prognosis wouldn’t change more than a few months over the last 2,500 years. That is sad and shocking.

Do you know what is also sad and shocking?

One can already sense Team Darwin’s Greg Phitidis and Nick Radley clearing off some shelf space on their book cases as they anticipate reaping heaps of awards for their massively “successful” campaign.

Team Darwin is the brain trust behind the Pancreatic Action Network’s “I Wish” campaign, in which pancreatic cancer patients wish for breast, testicular or cervical cancer on the grounds that these cancers have a better survival rates.

Phitidis explained his company’s work on this website for marketing professionals. “Despite their invariably smaller budgets, charities have a huge natural asset which their corporate counterparts spend millions trying to develop – emotion,” writes Phitidis. “There needs to be a bolder culture within the charities themselves. That means adopting a leadership and decision-making approach more in line with organisations in the private sector, with trustees behaving more like ambitious board directors. But unless you’re a big charity, marketing is not a professionalised function in the organisation. In many, there is a culture of consensus and mutualism; the desire to do good is coupled with the desire not to cross an imaginary line. The opportunity to cut through is there, it’s just the willingness to grasp it…

So our strategy from day one was to confront people with the facts. We did that by showing how it’s a situation so desperate that anything else seems more attractive. . .This would be a crass approach were it not completely true. The ‘I wish I had…(another type of cancer)’ lines chime like cathedral bells with every pancreatic cancer patient we’ve spoken to, and with everyone who has lost someone to the cancer. It is simply an unbearable insight expressed.

In a day, a week, or a month, all the people who were up in arms by our campaign will no longer be upset. But the country will have woken up to a silent killer. Wake up calls are always a jolt, but they leave you awake.

Oh my. This excerpt should get some kind of commendation for Outstanding Achievement in Tone Deaf Rationalization. If Phitidis weren’t so earnest, this essay would actually be hilarious.  Meet Marketing and Emotion,  the Castor and Pollux of the modern charity pantheon. “There needs to be a bolder culture,” declares Phitidis.  Is it just me or is anyone else having flashbacks of Gordon Gekko in “Walll Street”: (“Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind.”)

This campaign isn’t crass! It’s completely true! “Completely true” must be some kind of British slang for “artfully presenting certain statistics in a very limited context that suggests breast cancer is just awesome sauce.”

 Phitidis talks about confronting people with facts  “by showing how it’s a situation so desperate that anything else seems more attractive. Notice that Phitidis doesn’t use ANY qualifier. He doesn’t say  “almost anything” or “virtually anything.” Were I a Team Darwin client I would marvel at Phitidis’  graceful way with sweeping generalizations. (Also if proper nouns were allowed in Scrabble, “Phitidis” would probably be a Triple Word Score.)

And the cancer patients don’t just say “Thanks, your campaign totally captures my reality of being handed an awful prognosis.” No, Phitidis must have happened upon a closeout sale at the Simile Factory. Because he tells us the campaign’s tagline “chime[s] like cathedral bells with every pancreatic patient we’ve spoken to and with everyone who has lost someone to cancer.”

Oddly enough, I  heard church bells too. Only mine were funeral bells tolling for the half a million people around the world who will die from metastatic breast cancer in 2014.

Like a bullfighter wielding his cape, Phitidis executes another marvelous veronica when he tells us that EVERYONE who has lost someone to [pancreatic] cancer approved of the campaign. Wow–is Phitidis like Commissioner Gordon in “Batman”? Does he have some Bat Signal that reaches the thousands of people who lost someone to pancreatic cancer AND simultaneously registers their opinions of Team Darwin’s creative output? Modern technology is certainly wonderful.

We now come to the pièce de résistance of this essay–“In a day, a week, or a month, all the people who were up in arms by our campaign will no longer be upset.”

Not just “some” or “most” of the people, but ALL of them.

Well, of course some of the most outspoken people–those with metastatic breast cancer–will no longer be upset. Because they’ll be, you know, dead.

I don’t have Phitidis amazing ability to instantaneously poll the thousands of people with metastatic breast cancer. But at least ONE of us will still be upset.




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3 thoughts on “I Wish Team Darwin Had Some Class To Go With Its Pancreatic Cancer Campaign

  1. gspeers says:

    Well said. I know it is probably true that pancreatic cancer patients and their caregivers likely do wish they had breast cancer…. Because the messages used to raise money for breast cancer research have succeeded in convincing people that breast cancer can be beaten. From my perspective, as someone with Stage IV BC, that is the root of the problem… People do not GET that absolutely NO progress has been made in reducing deaths from breast cancer. Too bad these marketers got it SO wrong!

  2. monica says:

    Or how about wishing you didn’t have cancer at all. That would be a novel idea. In my case, I not only get the joy of breast cancer but also premalignant side branches on my pancreas as well. I might add that I am only 44. Talk about some bad luck. Wouldn’t wish for either one.

  3. susan says:

    The fact that another brand of cancer is fighting mad about their situation is not a reason I am going to fail to understand that they really don’t mean it, their response is likely sheer frustration and anger at the medical system, same as a lot of people. Actually it helps that other cancer brands are fighting mad about their disease, that moves the chips in the right direction for everyone. It seems like i recently read that a RON inhibitor concept may be very useful in pancreatic cancer same as it is expected to be a metastasis preventer and controller in mbc. With a RON inhibitor plus Palbociclib, people may have a normal life expectancy. So, try to think bigger picture and don’t get so insulted. These people are really your allies in getting the right drug for breast cancer developed and driving a large enough constituency that the drug is able to be developed quickly and economically. That is the real dynamic and that economic fact is what needs to be understood.

    There are going to be a whole lot of people out of work in breast cancer land , mammography, surgery, and savings on hospitalizations, radiation, etc when these new concept drugs are able to be developed and brought to bear on mbc. That will be a great thing and many will be cheering the end of the breast cancer machine’s advantage taking and self importance.

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