As Publicis Groupe reveals the next phase of ‘Working with Cancer’, Carla Serrano and Marco Venturelli talk to Laura Swinton about why they’re the first holding company to invest in a Super Bowl spot and why they hope the power of storytelling will break down taboos
“Every cancer story is a personal odyssey.”
Marco Venturelli, chief creative officer of Publicis Groupe France, is reflecting on a new commercial that has a vast, global ambition to change attitudes at a deeply intimate, individual level.
'Monday' - the latest film from Working with Cancer is launched ahead of World Cancer Day and will be aired during this year's Super Bowl.
The film is the latest iteration of Publicis Groupe’s paradigm-shifting ‘Working with Cancer’ movement. On January 17th, at Davos, Publicis Groupe launched the movement to CEOs of the world’s leading multinationals, exhorting them to support their employees dealing with cancer and create business cultures that proactively help with recovery. That first launch film focused on the shocking stat that 50% of people are afraid to tell their employers about their cancer diagnosis. The film and plea from Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun, who has opened up about his own recent battle with cancer, had an immediate impact on the assembled business leaders. Just two weeks later, ‘Working with Cancer’ is a true alliance of some of the world’s biggest employers, including Abbvie, Adobe, Bank of America, BNP Paribas, BT, Citi, Google, Haleon, Labcorp, L’Oréal, Lloyd’s, LVMH, Marriott, McDonald’s, Meta, Mondelez, Microsoft, MSD, Nestlé, Omnicom, PepsiCo, Renault Group, Sanofi, Toyota, Unilever, Verizon, and Walmart.
Work/Life - Working with Cancer's launch film was released earlier this month
“At the heart of what we're trying to do is to erase that stigma and that taboo, and the silence and the fear,” says Carla Serrano, chief strategy officer of Publicis Groupe and CEO of Publicis New York.
Having brought the business community onside, Publicis Groupe now has its eyes on the rest of the world and wants to empower people to support their colleagues facing down cancer. And to make sure ‘Working with Cancer’ has the widest impact possible, they’re taking to advertising’s biggest stage: the Super Bowl.
The new film, ‘Monday’, directed by Martin de Thurah and Elena Petitti Di Roreto, will launch ahead of World Cancer Day on February 4th and will be broadcast during the big game on February 12th in a pioneering ad slot - the first Super Bowl ad to be purchased and invested in by a holding company. It’s a sign of Publicis Groupe’s commitment to the cause.
Carla says the decision to go big with the Super Bowl was a logical step to amplify the message and enact change as quickly as possible - and was a case of applying the same advice and insight that they’d give to a client to themselves.
“We started to think about what we could do that's in our power to make this a success, and to make it really tangible - and to do it fast. We would be recommending this to any business and brand - what would you do? You would design a communications plan that had different targets, you create incredible ideas and creative that actually stands out and connects. And you use the platforms that are the most efficient and effective to do so. The Super Bowl is that huge global stage,” she explains. Launching on World Cancer Day too, was a chance to ensure the consumer side of the campaign had cultural resonance.
That broad cultural resonance is key to driving wider change. According to Marco, it wasn’t enough to simply leave ‘Working with Cancer’ as a corporate-level exercise. Going back to that idea of a ‘personal odyssey’, empathy and compassion between colleagues and friends is as important as company policy.
“The most important achievement that we can have is that true support. For sure, you can get support coming from companies, from bosses, from institutions changing the rules. That’s the practical support but that’s not enough. There is the emotional support that you get through empathy from people who understand that, even if you don't go into detail explaining what's going on,” reflects Marco.
Having worked with cancer organisations during the development of the campaign, one thing that Marco has learned is that having cancer is, in a sense, an experience that never quite goes away. “It stays with you forever. So, when you're touched by it, you will always have it and so you will always be working with cancer, in a way - even if you go back to normal,” he says. “So the job to be done was really to use the power of storytelling and the power of using emotion, to create this empathy.”
Creating empathy is no small task and required a deft and sensitive director at the helm - or in this case, directors. Martin de Thurah and Elena Petitti Di Roreto brought the complex emotional tensions to life.
“[There was] this balance and tension, because on one side, there is the journey and it was very important that the journey was eventually a positive one because it will be seen by so many people. Even if he's extremely tough - and it is extremely tough - you need to give that message of hope because a lot of people who we will see it are in the middle of the fight. And on top of that, you want to end on a positive note because, and this is something that came out in every single conversation with the Association and with the people with cancer, is that empathy and support from colleagues and people at work is so important to recovery - so we wanted to land on that.”
Many of the crew behind ‘Monday’ are cancer survivors and caregivers themselves - which adds an extra depth of authenticity and emotional truth to the film.
The film has to pack a lot into two minutes - from the fraught physical and emotional journey of diagnosis and treatment, to the detached loneliness and nervous anticipation of the return to work. But more than that, the team wanted to convey the universal reality of cancer’s cruelty, which transcends geography, gender, ethnicity and class. With that in mind, the spot depicts a smart professional woman in Paris and a blue collar young British man working a physically demanding job.
Speaking with Carla and Marco, it’s clear that this project has been a truly unique experience. Everyone they’ve spoken to has their own stories about cancer - either their own battles or their experiences supporting friends, family and loved ones. In fact, in the creation of the campaign, they’ve seen the power of breaking down stigma and taboos in front of their eyes.
At Davos, for example, Walmart president and CEO Doug McMillon was urging people to sign up in the conference halls - senior business leaders following their heart to unlock decisive action. But at a more subtle level, that dissolution of taboos and encouraging people to talk and open up has also already helped businesses connect the dots.
“They [the founding partner companies] all have fairly good policies. They were unaware that people were hiding their cancer or feeling the need to silence themselves,” says Carla. “So it was almost a moment of recognition that they could be doing something. It takes a little lift for them to have a great impact in people's lives.”
And so the team is hoping that the mass media push will see that dissolution of taboo and sense of connection ripple out across society.
While this is an initiative that has come from the very heart of Publicis Groupe - Carla attributes its very existence to Arthur’s ‘incredible leadership’ - but the ‘Working with Cancer’ movement is one that welcomes collaboration from across the business world… even from other holding companies. Following the launch at Davos, two of the CEOs at rival holding companies got in touch immediately.
That cross-industry support is both the key to the long term success of ‘Working with Cancer’. Alongside the Super Bowl spot purchased by Publicis Groupe, ‘Working with Cancer’ will run a fully integrated campaign supported by $100m in media, generously donated by partners like Disney/ABC, NBCU, Warner Bros Discovery, Paramount, Fox, Roku, Snap, iHeart, TikTok, YouTube, NCM, Screenvision, Clear Channel, Lamar, Zeta and Meta, who are contributing one billion impressions. Carla reveals that the OOH aspect of the campaign will also see a Times Square takeover.
“This is not a vanity project for us,” says Carla. “This is a real social change mandate - and we're going to use all the partners that we have and pass the baton so that everyone feels ownership. To be honest, that's the only way this is going to be a success.”