Gender EqualityHealth

Saving men one mo-bro at a time

November is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and also the start of Movember, a month-long campaign to raise money and encourage men to get screened for the disease. During Movember, men are challenged to grow out their facial hair and share their ‘staches on social media.

An examination of the campaign provides some insights about what works and what falls short in communicating to men about health issues.

As a fundraiser, Movember has been quite a success. In less than a decade, it has raised more than $300M. That money now supports more prostate cancer research than any non-government agency in the world,” said researchers Richard Wassersug and John L Oliffe from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, who have studied this and other prostate cancer campaigns.

According Wassersug and Oliffe, the campaign’s strategic use of masculinity is what sets this campaign apart from the others.

The researchers say Movember uses humor and competition to effectively tap into men’s sense of masculinity.

“Movember encourages men to compete about the appearance of their mustaches. This sets up a situation where a male can participate in a competition that affirms his manhood without ever seriously challenging his masculinity,” the researchers said. “In the competition…the only males who could be considered emasculated (and only metaphorically of course) are those who decline to compete. By remaining free of facial hairs, they appear, by comparison, hypogonadal, that is, without enough testosterone to grow facial hair.”

While the growing of an epic ‘stache is a fun and competitive campaign that has been successful in raising money for research, the campaign has had little effect on men’s health behavior.

For example, one study found that Twitter users who participated in the 2013 campaign in Canada rarely tweeted about the importance of screenings for prostate cancer.

The researchers found that out of the 2,400 tweets analyzed, 34 percent were fundraising related, only 18 percent called for making a change to men’s health and 26 percent characterized the campaign as a mustache contest rather than a charity.

Similarly, another study found that “the Movember campaign had a limited immediate effect on (prostate cancer) referral(s), however, it may have contributed to an increased awareness of Prostate cancer.” The researchers found that during the month of the campaign, there was a slight increase in men referred to doctors for prostate cancer screenings, however, in the months that followed, there was no increase in referrals.

So what can we take away from this campaign and apply to our own work:

  • The use of fun, competitive campaigns that tap into our audiences sense of self and values can be effective for raising awareness and funding.
  • However, if your goal is to impact behavior, such as promoting preventive health measures, be careful not to let the gimmick overshadow your larger message. Or in this case, hide it behind a mustache.

Like this? Read about the Check Yo Nutz campaign that used multiple mediums and humor to effectively encourage young men to seek preventive health care and information for prostate cancer.

Posted on November 19, 2015

Annie Neimand
Annie Neimand is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology, Criminology & Law at the University of Florida, and Research Director and Executive Editor for frank.