The Future of Mobile

NHS England launches 'Ribbon Dancer' multichannel campaign to encourage bowel cancer screening

David Murphy

NHS England has launched a multichannel campaign to encourage more people to complete the bowel cancer screening test when sent one. The push was developed in partnership with M&C Saatchi London.  

As part of the NHS’s broader ambition to increase the proportion of all types of cancers being diagnosed early, the new campaign aims to boost participation in bowel cancer screening amongst those who are invited to take part. 

Those who are eligible for bowel cancer screening receive a Faecal Immunochemical Test (or FIT) kit in the post once every two years, which enables them to quickly and easily take a poo sample at home, and send it to the NHS for testing.

Currently around 4.5m people are invited to take part in the NHS bowel cancer screening programme each year. Most of the campaign’s target audience say they will complete the bowel cancer test when they receive one in the post, yet the latest data shows that almost one third of people who were sent an NHS bowel cancer screening kit in England last year did not go on to complete it. This can be due to a number of reasons, from feeling it’s unhygienic, through to cultural taboos regarding taking a poo sample, as well as the incorrect assumption that if you don’t have any symptoms, there’s no need to test. 

The key benefit of the test is that it can detect signs of cancer way before someone would ever notice any symptoms. Given that early-stage diagnosis of bowel cancer improves chances of survival by over 90 per cent, it makes the test – and that tiny sample of poo – a life-saving opportunity. This led to M&C Saatchi’s creative thought: your next poo could save your life. 

To ensure more people complete the bowel cancer test when they receive one, M&C Saatchi has developed a hero TV spot, ‘Ribbon Dancer’, directed by Si&Ad at Academy Films. In the film, we see a man in his fifties getting up in the morning before he heads downstairs and takes a loo roll from a bag by the door. This is the moment inspiration strikes. He begins to unravel the paper before bursting into a graceful dance. Like a rhythmic gymnast, he uses the toilet paper as his ribbon. The display is a joyous celebration of life, choreographed to the tune of ‘I’ve got to be me’ by Sammy Davis Jr. 

The man’s dance takes him around the house and out into the garden before eventually leading him to the privacy of his bathroom. A series of quick cuts depict the completion of the bowel cancer screening kit, before a voiceover instructs the audience, “If you’re sent a bowel cancer screening kit, put it by the loo. Don’t put it off.”

Alongside the TV spot the integrated campaign also includes activity across video-on-demand, search, social, online video and community radio. Media planning for the campaign is by Wavemaker, and media buying is by OmniGov. 

“Diagnosing bowel cancer at an early stage greatly improves a person’s chances of survival, which is why we want to ensure that as many people as possible complete the bowel cancer screening test when they’re sent one,” said Phil Bastable, Deputy Director, Head of Marketing and Social Media Team at NHS England. “ This campaign by M&C Saatchi London addresses a serious, sensitive issue in an engaging and memorable way, showing how taking this quick, easy-to-use test really does have the power to save your life.”