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These Health Orgs Are Winning With Sexy, Scandalous Content

How do you raise awareness about a boring, unsexy topic like colon cancer screenings?

Convince a grown man that doctors found a toy car in his butt and capture his reaction on video, of course.

With more than a million hits in on Youtube in one month, the Colon Cancer Alliance has found that raising health awareness requires raising a few eyebrows. “Colon cancer isn’t as sexy as other cancers, and the alliance was struggling to get its message out,” Tim Staples, founding partner of the video’s production firm, Contagious, told Mashable. “We wanted to do something fun and share-worthy.”

In the video, comedian Jack Vale pranks a series of colonoscopy patients with doctored up x-rays that reveal bizarre objects supposedly found in their colons, including “Three’s Company” trading cards, car keys, and an iPhone 4. The groggy patient responses make for great comedy—”These aren’t even my keys!”—while cleverly driving home the point the nonprofit wants a new generation of colon owners to hear: Anything could be up there.

Colons aren’t the only body part people chose to ignore, and Colon Cancer Alliance isn’t the first health non-profit to use an edgy video to promote an initiative, either. Nonprofit Rethink Breast Cancer‘s 2011 YouTube spot featuring a half-naked muscleman demonstrating a breast self-check has nearly 7 million hits and has generated lots of buzz for the organization’s Your Man Reminder app.

In easily the most hair-raising bid to raise awareness among male patients, Canadian firms Crush FX and BBDO partnered to create a video for Testicular Cancer Canada chronicling the screen-by-screen facial expressions of young men having their testicles waxed. Bulging eyeballs, flushed faces, and silent, slow-motion screams abound. It. Looks. Horrifying. If Johnny Knoxville wanted to promote testicular cancer screenings, this is is how he’d do it.

Sure, this edgy trend in cancer awareness content is fun and shareable, but when it comes to such a serious topic, is a jokey approach appropriate? Not everyone is convinced.

“Cute boys are more appealing than stern doctors, so Your Man Reminder might encourage some women to take care of themselves,” Mark Blankenship wrote on NPR’s blog. “That’s great, but it’s still disconcerting to see breast cancer treated like a flirty game.”

Touché, NPR. Perhaps the brave-yet-smiling face of Katie Couric during her live colonoscopy from 2000 made a substantial mark. For Today Show audiences, that could be a fair assumption, but boomers aren’t the target of this new content wave. Testicular Cancer Canada’s front page clearly states young men are their target audience, and if young men love anything, it’s irreverence.

Take Jake Doty. He was 22 when journalist Michael Crowe wrote about his experience with testicular cancer for USA Today in 2012. When the doctor walked into the room with the bad news, Doty asked if he was going to be okay, to which the doctor replied, “Yeah, we’re just going to have to hack your nut off.”

“While some might find this manner of conduct out of place for a medical professional, Doty said it was perfect for him,” wrote Crowe. In fact, Doty not only integrated humor into his cancer survival, he said that indirect approaches to cancer awareness, like charity bowling events, actually frustrate him.

“Maybe there’s a more effective way for people to understand, or learn,” he said.

NPR may scoff at the Rethink Breast Cancer video, but more than 50,000 (presumably) women have downloaded the Your Man Reminder app on Android alone, and they don’t seem to be complaining. Likewise, publishing a video of slow-motion facial reactions of dudes getting their scrotums waxed may be brazen (and ballsy), but it also seems to be a compelling way to get young men thinking about the health of their testicles.

The strategy may not suit everyone, but it for millennials who like to share viral content, Katie Couric in a hospital gown won’t cut it anymore.

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