Ads Often Miss the Mark When Talking About Men. This Lovely PSA Nails It

Prostate Cancer UK uses Shakespeare and moments of true joy to celebrate men at their best

Using words from Shakespeare's Hamlet, the ad shows men at their most loving and resilient. - Credit by Prostate Cancer UK
Headshot of David Griner

Are men noble and strong of heart? Not as often as they should be. Most of them aspire to greatness and resilience, with those who stumble along the way frequently looking to blame others rather than take accountability for their actions. Men can be petulant and petty or, if they make the right choices, supportive and generous.

As the #MeToo movement has brought discussions of toxic masculinity into the mainstream cultural conversation, marketers have veered across the tonal landscape trying to find a way to talk about men with a voice that’s positive while also acknowledging the flaws and fragility of a gender raised to be dismissive of flaws and fragility.

Gillette certainly didn’t stick the landing on its worthwhile attempt at highlighting how men have abused their social powers and how they could be better. The ad came across to many as a lecture rather than an anthem of encouragement, though the brand deserves credit for being one of the few willing to push the conversation forward. Some tried to push the tone too far in the other direction, putting traditional masculinity back on a pedestal.

Today we have a new entrant into the field of ads aimed at celebrating men, and this one might just have found a path that successfully navigates a cultural minefield.

The new PSA from Prostate Cancer UK and agency BBH London is called “Men, We Are With You.” It uses lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and emotionally evocative footage to show how men can be loving and kind—while also vulnerable, both emotionally and physically.

As the spot notes, one man dies every 45 minutes from prostate cancer. It’s one of the most common cancers among men and can often be lethal, though it’s often treatable if detected early through regular prostate exams.

“By celebrating everything great about men, and highlighting the special moments we will lose if our dads, brothers, sons and partners continue to die early from prostate cancer, we want everyone to know that Prostate Cancer UK stands with men and for men,” says Olivia Burns, director of communications at Prostate Cancer UK.

While the Shakespearean verse of the ad might sound lofty and lavish in its praise of men, it’s worth noting that Hamlet was a famously imperfect man, one with tremendous potential and intellect but also an emotional indifference and cruelty that literally cost the lives of almost everyone around him.

Hamlet’s “What a piece of work is man” monologue is, yes, a celebration of humanity’s potential, but he’s saying it (to poor, baffled Rosencrantz an Guildenstern) as a preface to the fact that, despite all these potential upsides, “man delights not me.” (A line understandably omitted from the ad.) Hamlet knew man was capable of greatness, and he wanted to appreciate it, but the realities of life made it difficult.

The film launched on ITV last night and will run through July on channels selected because they’re mostly watched by Prostate Cancer’s UK target audience, men and women over 45. The campaign will also be extended through outdoor, digital, social and PR.

Prostate Cancer UK:
Associate Director of Communications: Olivia Burns
Head of Marketing Communications: Nicholas Wright
Strategic Planning Manager: Sarah Lines

Agency: BBH
BBH Creative Team: Oliver Short
BBH Creative Director: Nick Gill
BBH Account Director: Selina Strasburger/Aymara Blanco
BBH Producer: Jemima Bowers
BBH Assistant Producer: Sam Ramsey
Production Company: Pulse Films
Director: Nicolas Jack Davies
Executive Producer: Lucy Kelly
Producer: Chris Harrison
Postproduction: The Mill
Editor/Editing House: Billy Mead @ Ten Three
Sound: String and Tins
Lead Music Supervisor: Julz Baldwin
The Garage brand strategist: Nick Kendall
Media: The7Stars

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."
Publish date: May 15, 2019 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT