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In Your Face

Cross your fingers, hold your breath . . . and put out ads with no holds barred.

The company behind the ad shown here decided to send subtlety on sabbatical for this effort, and it gets an A+ in my book. I doubt there could be a more powerful, compelling way it could have imparted the chief sales message about its product, TheraSeed.

Briefly, TheraSeed treatment is an alternative to going under the knife to treat prostate cancer. It involves the implantation of radioactive seeds in the prostate to destroy tumors. (Squint, and you'll see a tiny speck about two-thirds down the ad page--that's a Thera-"Seed.") The point of the ad is to compare this relatively simple, minimally invasive procedure to the more common and maximally invasive one of surgical removal of the prostate. And what could be a more riveting way to grab attention for this comparison than to show the scariest symbol of surgery, a scalpel? The mere sight of one makes you wince, and that's just what the Buford, Georgia, company, Theragenics Corp., intended.

The ad, created by MATCH Inc. in Atlanta, has a clean, clinical look, but it packs a wallop. Just below the scalpel, at "eye level," is a quick, three-point comparison of the two treatments. For prostatectomy, it's "Months of recovery, probable impotence, higher risk for incontinence." For TheraSeed, it's an "approximately 45 minute procedure, recovery in 2-3 days, 1 happy significant other." The other comparison the company would like you to make is a visual one: the menacing scalpel vs. the benign-looking little seed.

There was likely plenty of consternation over whether Theragenics should go this route. After all, most medical advertising takes pains to be as uncontroversial and benign as possible. But I'm told the company CEO pushed for this more aggressive approach, perhaps believing in the words I often quote from the late advertising guru Jay
Chiat: "If the ad you create doesn't make your palms sweat a little, you haven't produced breakthrough advertising."

There are no results to report yet on the response this ad received compared to previous efforts by Theragenics. The intention, I'm sure, is to plant the seed, so to speak, in the minds of men over 50 that there are less radical options should they ever face prostate cancer.

What's the lesson for other companies deciding if their advertising should follow suit? Scalpel or not, an ad that's as cutting edge as this one can't help but grab eyes.


Jerry Fisher is a freelance advertising copywriter and the author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising.

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This article was originally published in the October 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: In Your Face.

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