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Hoax exposes danger

Hoax exposes dangers of tanning and raises awareness of skin cancer

Cancer is the UK's biggest killer and while all forms of the disease are equally serious, skin cancer is the most common. On average, 1,800 people in the UK die each year from the disease, 35 per cent more than in Australia. While other countries such as Australia have invested heavily in communicating the dangers of the disease and how it can be prevented, the UK has lagged behind in tackling the issue.

Despite the alarming rates of skin cancer, a large percentage of Britons, particularly the young, yearn for bronzed skin and will do almost anything to get it.  Awareness of skin cancer and the causes of it among this group however, are worryingly low. Research conducted by the Teenage Cancer Trust and published in The All Party Parliamentary Skin Cancer Report found that:

• 41 per cent of teenagers never used sun cream when in the UK
• 75 per cent of UK teenagers admitted to burning in hot weather and nearly 80 per cent admitted to not wearing sun cream every time they were exposed to the sun
• Almost 50 per cent of teens admitted to not being concerned about skin cancer

To target youth audiences by creating an opportunity to engage with them about the dangers of skin cancer, what causes it and how it can be prevented.

Traditionally, cynical of health messages, a campaign was needed that would actively engage this young audience, communicate to them the dangers of skin cancer and equally importantly, point them in the direction of those qualified to provide help and guidance to help avoid the disease.

The cultural connector
Yearning for bronzed skin yet blissfully unaware of the causes and subsequent dangers of subjecting the skin to ultraviolet radiation (UVR), our target audience actively seek the best ways of tanning themselves. What better way to target them by convincing them of a new technology that would enable them to tan from the comfort of their computer screens?

A computer monitor made to look like a sunbed with digital editing
An infomercial offered free online tanning sessions

To give our target audience exactly what they wanted, ie, the newest and most effective way of getting a tan, we developed a revolutionary piece of software which enabled people to tan themselves from the comfort of their very own desks by simply logging on to

In order to drive traffic to the site, an infomercial offering free online tanning sessions at was developed. This was seeded on thousands of websites as well as being PR'd across key bloggers for relevant interest groups together and supported with an extensive national press PR campaign.

Twenty-five thousand free tanning vouchers were printed and distributed across London and the UK and the film was displayed on 50 digital cross track panels in 10 London underground stations and in 1,000 London taxi screens.  In a second wave of activity, an iphone application was launched and sent out to our email database and supported with online advertising.

Once on, the user is guided by our infomercial presenter Hannah Yasmin to learn more about the company behind the technology, invited to view related tanning products and download the iphone application and generally learn how to improve one's tan before starting their free session.

Only when they begin their trial and are 20 seconds in to their session does it become apparent that the company is a hoax. Five images depicting the ravaging effects of skin cancer are projected on to the screen with the message that this is the number of people that die each day from the disease. It's at this point that the user is introduced to the real people behind the campaign, Skcin.  Users can then visit Skcin's website or hoax a friend into logging on to the site.

Within 24 hours of launch, had received more than 30,000 hits. Within four weeks, the number of hits had reached over 230,000 from an incredible 180 countries.

The campaign engaged with over 880,000 page views and an average dwell time of over two minutes.

1.7 million people were exposed to the CBS digital cross track panels, 700,000 through London Cabvision.

The PR campaign delivered extensive national press coverage across titles such as The Sun, The Independent, The Daily Express, The Guardian and also online with BBC News, BBC Radio One, The New Zealand Herald, Fox US and Yahoo News with a total of 66 specialist news stories.

Rubber Republic, our online blog partner, secured coverage across 8,100 sites

Already, the campaign is being lauded creatively.  It has made Ad Age's top five ads worldwide; been voted The Independent's 'Best In Show' and has appeared in Contagious Magazine's 'Most Contagious' feature.

SKCIN trustee Richard Clifford commented: "The value and success of the 'Computertan' campaign has far exceeded our expectations. There is clear evidence that the spoof was so meticulously engraved that the campaign very quickly achieved its objectives and then some. It was a bold idea that was pulled off spectacularly by a truly talented, dedicated and extremely incredible team.

Skcin's aims and objectives from the outset have been to significantly increase public awareness of skin cancer through education and resultant early diagnosis, thereby saving lives. There is no doubt that this campaign has made a huge and otherwise unobtainable impact in this regard."


Case study details

Client: SKCIN
Agency: Signature Communications and Limelight PR
Campaign: Computertan
Timescale: February 2009

3rd December 2009


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