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A Crisp Image


A Crisp Image


Campaign: Dark Side of Tanning

Client: NSW Government & Cancer Institute NSW

Agency: Hall & Partners Open Mind


Australia is famous for its beach culture. Unfortunately, it’s also famous for its incidence of skin cancer, which is the highest in the world. While skin cancers, including melanoma, are highly preventable – through reducing exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) – melanoma is the most common cancer among men aged 25 to 54 and women aged 15 to 29 with the number of new cases in New South Wales projected to increase.

The increase in incidences of melanoma among young people hasn’t been down to a lack of awareness – young Australians are well-aware of the high levels of skin cancer in Australia and they have a substantial level of personal experience with it through friends or family who have had skin cancer. In fact, young Australians are overly familiar with skin cancer, and this has been breeding disregard for the condition. Research showed us that people believe skin cancer to be almost inevitable. Further, skin cancer is not perceived to be a significant threat: the removal of non-cancerous lesions is seen to be easy and readily available, making the threat of cancer seem minimal.

On top of that is the fact that most young people considered a tan desirable and accept the simple cutting out of skin cancer as an unavoidable part of the tanning process. Sunscreen has long been positioned as the primary means of sun protection (for example, in the ‘Slip Slop Slap’ campaign). This positioning, along with poor understanding of how best to use sunscreen, has contributed to the incidence of sunburn.


We were faced with a situation where young people were focusing on the desirability of a tan and ignoring the dangers a tan represents. Our campaign needed to increase awareness of the dangers of melanoma and tanning among young people and reduce the desirability of a tan, by communicating the science of what happens to your skin at a cellular level, in a way that made teenagers feel a profound personal relevance.

The primary dial we sought to shift was the desirability of a tan measured as pro-tanning attitudes. This was benchmarked before the campaign at 39 percent. Our goal (considered insanely ambitious given the long-term nature of societal behaviour change of this kind) was to achieve a reduction of three percent in two years.

Other objectives were to increase understanding of the severity of melanoma and increase the understanding of the health consequences of unsafe exposure to the sun, ultimately resulting in an increase in the proportion of people frequently using sun protection, including the use of a range of sun protection measures. 

Respondents who were adamant they ‘like to get a tan’ decreased almost 10 percent over the 12 months between summer 2006/07 and summer 2007/08.



‘The Dark Side of Tanning’ campaign was developed on a communications strategy of ‘Facts’ and ‘Feelings’. There was not a single instruction in the messaging.

We knew that for our target to reconsider something as fundamental as the desirability of a tan, they required new information that challenged their perception of a tan. Rather than delivering instructions to the target, given their likelihood to reject authority, the campaign strategy was to put the facts out there in an engaging, personally relevant way that would cause our target to reach an inescapable conclusion for themselves and start reconsidering their behaviour.

Modelling a familiar activity where skin is exposed to the sun, then showing the damage happening at a cellular level, before returning to show the person none the wiser, was found to be by far the most compelling way to create personal relevance for our market. Scientific advisers were engaged throughout the development of the campaign to provide key facts about the dangers of melanoma and an accurate and believable depiction of what happens at the cell level when skin is exposed to UVR.


TV was found to be the most effective spearhead for the campaign. A TV concept was developed that gave the audience personal relevance with the depiction of a familiar activity: sunbaking, and all the connotations that come with a healthy outdoor lifestyle. As the camera journeyed inside the body, 3D animation showed a melanocyte growing and turning into a melanoma, which continued burrowing just one millimetre, entering the blood stream and cancerous cells being dispersed throughout the body – juxtaposing the idea of a healthy tan uncomfortably with an ugly depiction of what’s going on under the surface. The image returned to the sun baker, oblivious to the fact she now has melanoma cells circulating throughout her body.

Given the need to engage both males and females and address both deliberate sun tanning and incidental sun exposure a second ‘top and tail’ was made for the ad where the sun baker was replaced with a young guy taking his shirt off to play touch footy.

Fully engaging our audience allowed a surprising amount of information to be communicated in a single spot, as well as allowing that information to be understood and remembered. Every line of the voiceover is new news. This 30-second spot was also used in cinemas, frequented regularly by teenagers during summer holidays.

Given that, by definition, sun exposure happens outdoors, outdoor media provided potent support. In particular, buses on routes travelling to popular beach destinations, and street furniture in these areas, targeted the journey to tanning environments. Digital was also an important channel, given the prevalence of young people online. We ran two interactive executions that were placed on news and weather sites, on the insight that this is a logical first stop before most teenagers start their day outdoors or at the beach.


Research undertaken pre- and post-campaign showed a significant decrease in pro-tanning attitudes. Respondents who were adamant they ‘like to get a tan’ decreased almost 10 percent over the 12 months between summer 2006/07 and summer 2007/08, and this result was maintained throughout the next burst of the campaign. What’s more, the proportion of respondents who were pro-tan decreased by six percentage points between pre-launch (39 percent) and post-launch (33 percent) during 2007/2008. This result was also maintained across the second burst of the campaign the summer following. These results were consistent in a national online survey of 16- to 64-year-olds, which also found the appeal of getting a suntan decreased significantly between the pre- and post- (46 percent) waves for New South Wales in 2008/09, the only state with a significant decrease.

Coupled with a decrease in pro-tanning attitudes was an increase in the understanding of melanoma as a health issue. The tracking results proved the new information offered by the campaign was clearly communicated, with high levels of ‘strongly agree’ to the key prompted message take-out of ‘melanoma only needs to be small to get into your bloodstream and spread to other parts of your body’ (78 percent). This indicates that the campaign has challenged core beliefs about tanning and skin cancer observed in the exploratory research for the campaign, particularly in relation to the degree of seriousness placed on skin cancer, the simple cutting out of skin cancer and sunburn being an inevitable part of the tanning process.

Changes in attitudes resulted in behavioural change: six in 10 respondents who saw the advertisements reported they had or intended to increase their levels of sun protection.

Our campaign aimed to achieve long-term behavioural/attitudinal change at a societal level, on one of Australia’s most ingrained national pastimes – sun tanning.With an insight-driven campaign targeted at teenagers, arguably one of the most difficult demographics to deliver a health message to, we surpassed our goal by 1.5 percent in half the anticipated time (the goal of three percent decline in pro-tanning attitudes in two years was beaten at six percent during just one summer).


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