Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cancerous Advertising

Today was the first “cold” day we’ve had in Sydney – a sure sign that winter is on its way.  That means that all of the summer advertisements will soon be coming down.  In the lead up to summer every year, Sydney suddenly becomes invaded by advertisements for all things summery:  cold beer, flip-flops, cocktails, sunglasses, and more.  It seems every billboard, every bus, every bus stop, and even public toilets become prime targets to place an ad to boost summer sales.  Let’s take a look at a few ads that I snapped photos of this season.

Summer isn’t summer without this main ingredient:

Ice cream!  Oh yeah taste – explode in my mouth!

Who said that?

Fancy something with more of a kick?  How about a nice chilled bottle of bubbles to “spritz your summer”?

Or maybe something with a bit of a stronger kick?  I was recently informed that Midori was “my mix for summer”.

And for the kids?  Well, they might want a nice refreshing something after a long day of playing out in the heat.  How about a slurpee?

Notice the beach scene there on the slurpee ad.  It’s amazing how many posters featuring beach scenes are splashed all over a city where you can very easily see beaches in person.  But still, I suppose they are pretty to look at and boost sales.  Take this one for example:

Pretty beach, topless dude, and perfect conditions for… wait a minute.  What?

That’s right.  For every advertisement you see for ice cream or alcohol or slurpees or flip-flops or board shorts or whatever, there’s probably one nearby for skin cancer as well.  Is that really necessary?


Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, including the highest instance rates and mortality rates for deadly melanoma.  Skin cancer rates in Australia are four times that of the rates in the United States, United Kingdom, or Canada.  80% of all cancers in Australia are skin cancer, and 2 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with some sort of skin cancer by the time they are 70.  Doctors in Australia have over 1,000,000 patient consultations for skin cancer per year, and roughly 450,000 people are treated for one or more skin cancers every year.  Those are incredibly high numbers for a country with fewer than 23,000,000 people.  For super deadly melanoma, the figures are equally as frightening.  1 in 24 males and 1 in 34 females will develop melanoma before the age of 75, and melanoma is the most common form of cancer in Australians aged 15 – 44 years.  Scary.  But why?

An ozone hole located over eastern Australia and New Zealand lets through more UV rays than in other parts of the populated world.  This makes prolonged unprotected sun exposure very dangerous.  To add to the problem, both Australia and New Zealand are full of fair (pale) people of northern European ancestry.  Migration patterns over the past few centuries have moved all of these people to a place that their skin pigmentation just isn’t suited for.  Being pale and pasty in cloudy Britain is fine, but bring ‘em to a sunny climate and they burn to a crisp in no time at all.

For these reasons, every summer without fail the Cancer Council puts up advertisements everywhere – including on the radio and TV.  The goal is to educate the public that they need to be wearing sunblock and that broad-brimmed hats and long sleeves are ok in summer.  Sometimes the ads are fairly standard like the one on the bus above.  Last year, however, they weren’t nearly so subtle.  Previous versions featured pictures of stitches from moles that had to be removed, with an explanation of why each stitch was there and an indication that the person on the photograph was going to have more cancer down the line.  And let us not forget the television.  Everybody in New South Wales who owns a television probably knows the name Wes Bonney.  Wes was a 26 year old Australian who died of melanoma in 2010.  A series of TV commercials told his story, featuring tearful testimonials from his family and friends about the dangers of not properly protecting yourself from the sun.

So, friends, when you come to Australia to visit me, please come prepared.  Bring a hat, sunglasses, and plenty of sunblock, and don’t hesitate to sit in the shade.  Most importantly:  brace yourself.  Every person you meet will ask you if you are wearing sunblock – it’s a standard question posed to visitors here.  And when I say every person, I truly mean every person.  You’ll be asked several times during any given day.  And if you say no, you’re sure to get a story about how someone they know lost an ear or a nose or died because of skin cancer.  It’s real.

It’s not just the sharks, rip tides, snakes, spiders, heat, and jellyfish that will get you in Australia.  It’s the sun too.  This only adds to my postulation that everything in Australia wants you to die.

Rough place.  But having to apply sunscreen every day is still way better than having to deal with Republicans.  Australia still wins.

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