TV station pulls cancer ad

April 06, 1993|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

Channel 45 has pulled an ad promoting mammograms after a breast-cancer survivor protested that the spot torments cancer patients and children who have lost mothers to the disease.

The advertisement, part of the state's three-year, $3 million anti-cancer campaign, portrays a boy being taunted by a bully, who shouts: "You don't have a mom."

"Get a mammogram. Once a year for a lifetime. If you won't do it for yourself, do it for him," the ad says.

"Unbelievably callous," said Georgia Groth, 40, who was treated for breast cancer three years ago. The Baltimore woman has sons 6 and 9 years old.

Mrs. Groth, whose cancer was diagnosed in a routine mammogram, said, "I did everything right, but I got cancer. When you've had cancer, what you want desperately to do is survive long enough to raise your children.

"I know what this ad seeks to do, to encourage women to have a mammogram, and it seeks to do that for good reason," she said. "But this ad blames the victims. I couldn't stand the thought of what my sons must feel when they see it."

Michael Golden, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, acknowledged that "the message is hard-hitting. That's what we want. We want people to stop and think about it. The ad shows women have a responsibility not only to themselves but to their family. It makes people uncomfortable. It's not a comfortable subject."

The advertisement, created by Richardson Myers & Donofrio Inc., "was based on what we came up with from focus groups," Mr. Golden said.

But after hearing from viewers who find the spot offensive, state health secretary Nelson Sabatini "says he's willing to take a look at it once more," Mr. Golden added.

Chuck Donofrio, president of Richardson Myers & Donofrio Inc., said the ad "appeals on a visceral level."

Other public service messages over the years have increased the rate of mammograms among higher-income, better-educated women, he said, "but there are many women in some demographic groups who have never had mammograms. We knew we would have to explore options that are more hard hitting."

Mr. Donofrio added, "I think more women's lives can be saved by that commercial being on the air than not on the air."

Steve Marks, general manager of Channel 45, WBFF-TV, said he received a letter from Mrs. Groth plus a "handful of calls" from other viewers.

"We reviewed the tape among ourselves, and we decided to pull the spot," he said.

"It's a little bit controversial to those people who have taken the necessary steps to protect their health but have gotten the disease through no fault of their own," he added.

"The state is performing a public service, but this may not be the way to do it," Mr. Marks said.

Mrs. Groth said she also saw the ad on WJZ-TV, Channel 13. The station's vice president and general manager, Marcellus Alexander, said he has received two letters about the ad, including one from Mrs. Groth. The station's staff is "discussing it," he said.

"I think everybody has the same objective, and that's to get the message out," Mr. Alexander said. "I don't think anybody wants to be offensive."

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