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Killer PSA compares tanning beds to death beds

Article - New York , 05 February 2015

Mollie’s Fund, a nonprofit cancer awareness foundation, and ad agency FCB’s health-minded division, Area 23, are launching what they’ve called “a tanning intervention” aimed at millennials and 30-somethings who bake themselves on tanning beds despite knowing the risks involved.

The campaign, dubbed “Free Killer Tan,” revolves around mock funerals for would-be tanners, complete with fake mourners, depressing organ music and customized RIP banners. It’s donePunk’d-style, with unsuspecting participants’ surprised and horrified reactions captured on video for the public service announcement.

It’s a morbid approach even for an advertising category well known for relying on shock value, Area 23’s VP, Creative Director David Adler admitted. But the agency thinks it’s justifiable given the statistics.

Some 10,000 people a year die from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Tanning beds reportedly cause at least 400,000 cases of skin cancer – about 6,000 of those are melanoma — in the U.S. annually.

About a million people, many of them young adults, go to tanning salons every day, and 40% of the country’s top colleges have salons on campus or nearby. Just one indoor tanning session increases a person’s melanoma risk by 20%, according to Mollie’s Fund.

“If you just throw a bunch of numbers at people, they won’t listen. And the fact is, they already know about the danger,” Adler said. “We’re looking for a real behavioral change here, so we felt the scare tactic was appropriate.”

Area 23 picked a bitter cold November day in Manhattan during which to lure locals into a new tanning salon, actually a faux business called “Vitamin Sun,” near Times Square. About 15 people took the bait, signed a waiver and agreed to before-and-after photos. (That gave ad executives a quick picture to use in the ceremony).

Instead of being ushered into a tanning cube, the customers were led into a room with pews and flowers, somber guests and personalized “in loving memory” messages atop a casket.

Not surprisingly, they sort of freaked out. There was a dermatologist on hand to explain the stats (and the no-joke prank) and discourage tanning. And organizers provided coupons for free spray tans to those who wanted them, along with sunscreen and other swag.

Amazingly, one guy still wanted his free tanning session, Adler said, so even terrifying PSAs don’t work on everyone.

“We’re all freezing, it just snowed again, and people are thinking about going to Florida or the Bahamas,” Adler said. “It’s peak tanning bed season.”

Since many people know someone who visits tanning salons, the ad partners have made it simple to share the video with friends. Along with the dedicated website, freekillertan.com, the spot will get distribution on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. A print campaign will follow, as will outdoor media such as taxi TVs.