Monday, November 8, 2010

The American Cancer Society, Master Marketer

Dan Ariely in The Upside of Irrationality:
The American Cancer Society understands not only the importance of emotions but also how to mobilize them. How does the ACS do it? For one thing, the word "cancer" itself creates a more powerful emotional imagery than a more scientifically informative name such as "transformed cell abnormality." 
The ACS also makes powerful use of another rhetorical tool by dubbing everyone who has ever had cancer a "survivor" regardless of the severity of the case (and even if it's more likely than a person would die of old age long before his or her cancer could take its toll). An emotionally loaded word such as "survivor" lends an additional charge to the cause. We don't use that word in connection, with say, asthma or osteoporosis. If the National Kidney Foundation, for example, started calling anyone who had suffered from kidney failure a "renal failure survivor," wouldn't we give more money to fight this very dangerous condition.
There isn't much different between cancer and its treatment that makes it more worthy of this kind of language than other diseases, as Christopher Hitchens points out in this interview:
Having to sit through chemotherapy is almost this Zen experience of boredom. You can't do much except read, you don't feel great and you're watching poison go in to your arm. People say you should be struggling, battling cancer. You're not battling it. You couldn't be living a more passive moment than that. You feel as though you're drowning in powerlessness.

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