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There was a time when cancer societies, like their counterparts in the fields of heart and lung disease, tended to be somewhat staid, cultivating a respectable image at all costs, and cautiously avoiding any activity which might be seen as radical. Even calling on the government to take action on tobacco seemed to some of them to be going too far. In some countries, things still have not changed much, but in Sweden, a mark of how far things have come was seen in May, when the Swedish Cancer Society decided to play the tobacco peddlers at their own game.
After newspapers had refused to run the society’s provocative ads directed against tobacco producer Swedish Match (“Help the children in Eastern Europe to start smoking. Buy shares in Swedish Match.”), the society switched to a different, though no less forthright approach. Using designs of actual cigarette packs as a starting point, an advertising agency devised a range of mock cigarette advertisements, each using a subtle variation of the brand name, sometimes with a witty strapline (figures).
Marlboro became Mardröm, for example, the Swedish word for nightmare, and the strapline means: “Time to wake up.” TheCancer brand says: “It starts with a dark spot on an X-ray screen”, while the Dumhet (meaning stupidity) brand promises: “I can quit whenever I like.” The postcards were distributed in the foyers of cinemas, and were thus highly effective at reaching young people, who form a large segment of the cinema-going public.
Many cinemas and also restaurants in Sweden have dispensers holding stocks of 10 postcards, which may be taken free of charge by customers. The cancer society bought space for five cards, which were the most popular cards of the 10 on offer in May: the entire print run of 100 000 were taken, a large total for a small country. By contrast, some of the five cards for which other advertisers had bought space remained unclaimed at the end of the month. The tobacco industry is thought to be incensed at the campaign, but unlikely to try to take action, as it is doubtful that a Swedish court would rule against a charity that was not using the altered images to sell a rival product, and the publicity would be devastating.