Cancer charity adverts through history

One of the best things about charity communications is how people are always looking for new ideas and learning from what’s going on elsewhere.

But while we’re good at learning from other charities and other sectors, I would question whether we’re as good at learning from our own past.

I think it’s worth pausing in our day jobs and spending time learning about how our predecessors, both in the sector and in our own charities, approached communications.

After all, for all that digital has changed charity communications, the basics – persuading people to care enough about your cause to take action – have stayed pretty much the same.

When I worked at Diabetes UK, I used to spend a lot of time looking at other sectors and charities to try to find ideas we could use.

But it never really occurred to me to look at my own charity’s past for ideas, even though Diabetes UK has a 90-year history of communicating about diabetes. Not to mention a founder who was more creative and a better writer than I’ll ever be (and I’m not being modest – it was H.G. Wells).

Then one day I was looking at a newspaper archive and randomly came across a Diabetes UK advert from the early 1990s that was absolutely fantastic – it brilliantly got across the emotional impact of being the parent of a child with Type 1 diabetes.

It’s a lesson I’ve tried to learn from.

So in that spirit, I thought it would be worth looking up cancer charity adverts from history.

I’ve pasted them below. Looking at them, it’s interesting to see the things that have changed and the things that have stayed the same.

There might be some aspects of them that we, as a sector, think are best consigned to history. But there might be others that we can learn from.

My take on them: I think there’s something effective about the simplicity of the language of “Please help us fight cancer”, while I think the “How much will you give to save a life from cancer?” advert takes an interesting approach.

I also think the “1 in 4 people” advert from the 1980s is excellent – a really powerful and affecting piece of advertising.

But the one I was most struck by was the last one (so no excuse for not scrolling down to the bottom!).

The reason? I remember, quite a few years ago, writing a piece of direct mail that took an almost identical approach.

I remember thinking at the time how creative and innovative my idea for it was. Which sort of proves the point.


cancer 1920s


Cancer advert 1940s.png


cancer advert 1950s


cancer 1960s


cancer advert 1960s


cancer advert 1970s


cancer advert 1980s


cancer advert 1980s2

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