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A harebrained idea to global success: What we can learn from Movember

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As the temperature approaches winter lows, hundreds of thousands of men across Canada are donning a cozy upper lip accessory — the moustache.

November in Canada, as in many countries around the world, has become synonymous with Movember, the global men’s health campaign that encourages “Mo Bros” to grow moustaches in support of the cause of men’s cancers.

The campaign began nearly a decade ago in Melbourne, Australia, when a few friends, bemoaning the loss of the moustache, convinced each other to try to bring it back to the forefront of fashion by each growing one for a month. The group’s success that year got the wheel’s tuning. In 2004, the Movember Foundation was born.

The international on-your-face campaign promotes men’s health education and research, particularly related to prostate cancer. Since Canada’s first Movember in 2006, the campaign has exploded across the country. Last year, Canada’s campaign raised just under $42 million with nearly 80% of the funds going to Prostate Cancer Canada. This compares to 2012, when the charity received less than $8 million.

Despite originating in Australia, Canada, yet again, is topping the global leader board this year with the most financial donations so far.

Putting the FUN into fundraising

Peter Bombaci, Movember Canada’s national director, says the key to the campaign’s success is the careful combination of fun and a cause that matters.

“Similar to the guys in Australia...Canadians love to have fun,” Bombaci says. “November is not the greatest month of the year, but when you see hundreds of moustaches walking the streets it certainly puts a smile on your face.”

“I think, as Canadians, we’re a giving, caring bunch, and I think it’s a combination of having some fun, but also knowing that you’re doing something good and making a difference in the world that is truly connecting (the campaign) to Canadians.”

Daniel Lombardi, a fundraising student at Humber College, is working with his event practicum class to raise funds for Movember. The class runs the T.O. your MO online fundraising network for post-secondary students in Toronto. He says the campaign particularly appeals to the younger generations.

“It’s kind of fun growing a moustache,” Lombardi says. “I think having a moustache isn’t something I would normally do all year round, but for this one month you don’t feel ridiculous doing it, because when you walk down the street, chances are you’re going to see five other people also growing a moustache.”

It’s that sense of community that Bombaci says contributes to the campaign’s success.

“Whether you’re a truck driver, a lawyer, a hockey player, an average joe, or a superstar, everybody who grows a moustache is a participant in Movember and everybody gets to feel like they’re part of something, something good,” Bombaci says. “Everybody who grows a moustache is on the same team. And I think that energy that’s created by knowing that people from all walks of life are part of this campaign is pretty powerful.”

Joining that community are many well-known Canadians. This year Canadian celebrities include hockey players, politicians and even a Canadian astronaut. These celebrity fundraisers have added momentum to the Movember campaign. Last year, tributes to Jack Layton and his iconic moustache contributed to a donation boom. The former leader of the opposition NDP died last summer from cancer.

“I think Jack (Layton) certainly had a positive impact on the campaign last year,” Bombaci says. “But as I think we saw in what happened after Jack’s passing, it wasn’t about was about people coming together for what Jack stood for and not his party lines.”

“I think the connection (between Layton and prostate cancer) and the fact that he was such a great leader just combined and really put a lot of energy behind the campaign.”

Attracting participants

Another ingredient to campaign success? Sacrifice.

Dave Simms manages events and community relationships for Leukaemia Foundation in Australia. Like Movember, the foundation’s flagship fundraising campaign is rooted in the idea of connecting fun with an important cause. The World’s Greatest Shave encourages Australians from across the country shave their heads to raise money for leukemia research. Last year, the campaign raised $18 million, an amount that accounted for about 75% of the organization’s annual funds.

“There’re so many charities just asking you to throw a dollar coin in their bucket or do a one-kilometre walk or something that is really simple,” Simms says. “What we’ve done, and I think why Movember and a few others are working, is that we’re asking for more of a commitment than that.”

Spending a month growing a moustache or six weeks growing back a head of hair is a sort of sacrifice, Simms says. Though it more difficult to get people to commit to the event, the participants tend to raise more funds. Simms says a person who signs up to shave their head as part of The World’s Greatest Shave contributes, on average, $600.

Recruitment requires effective advertising.

Simms contributes the World’s Greatest Shave’s success to the decision to act like a for-profit company. The organization invests in fun annual TV commercials that feature “Chin faces” — upside chins made to look like human faces.



“People said they were getting tired of being made to feel guilty in their living rooms,” Simms says. “They didn’t feel comfortable watching dinner with the kids and then having some ad come on in black and white with dying children looking into the camera and saying please help us.”

Instead, the light-hearted approach got people excited about shaving their heads. Once people were hooked, the organization sold its message.

Conveying the message

Movember is about more than moustaches. It’s about sending a message about men’s health.

The objective is to encourage men age 40+ to visit a doctor annually and determine their risk of prostate cancer, Prostate Cancer Canada’s Executive Vice President Rebecca von Goetz says.

Lombardi says Movember’s effectiveness is its ability to link the campaign to the message. He says he didn’t often consider his health before participating in the campaign. Now things have changed.

“Every year Movember will roll around and I’ll actually say oh, I should totally make time for a checkup,” he says.

Lombardi says he participates in Movember to encourage other men to take action on their health. The experience of losing his father to cancer when showed him why this matters.

“I remember when I was younger and he was first diagnosed. It probably took him a little longer than it should have to go to the doctor and ask to get real tests done,” Lombardi says. “To a guy, it just seems like the attitude is always ‘Oh, I’m not that sick. It could just be the flu. I’m going to be fine. I’m going to pass it off.’”

Bombaci says that the effective messaging of the campaign is changing men’s behaviour toward their health.

“Men for the first time probably in history are embracing their health and allowing themselves to believe that it’s okay to think about their health and to take action and be preventative in their health measures,” he says.

Campaigns are successful when there is a direct link between the campaign and the cause, Simms says.

“I suppose Movember works well because it’s for men’s cancer and only men can grow moustaches,” Simms says. “Our event works because people lose their hair when they’re having treatment for blood cancer. It’s not unique to us, but it at least tells the story.”

Leukaemia Foundation conducted focus surveys and found that their message was indeed sinking in.

Participants weren’t simply doing something silly for the sake of being silly, Simms says.

“Doing it for a good cause makes it cool and legitimizes it.”

Success, in the case of Movember, has had tangible outcomes, including helping Prostate Cancer Canada grow.

“It’s fantastic, because prostate cancer research has been underfunded...and now with this influx of Movember funds we have been able to put together a national research strategy,” Prostate Cancer Canada’s von Goetz says. “So it puts us in a fantastic position that we can now fund these researchers who previously weren’t able to do this research.”

“We have certainly had to increase our research department and we now have a survivorship department (to help ease the burden for men and families living with the disease),” von Goetz says. “So we now have a survivorship department which we never would have had before.”

The Movember campaign continues until November 30. This year, half of the funds raised excluding operating costs will support Prostate Cancer Canada. An additional 40% will support men’s mental health initiatives through the Canadian Male Health Network. Ten percent will support the Movember Foundation’s Global Action Plan, which funds international research projects.

Expert Tips: Creating a successful campaign

1. Be bold. Dave Simms of Leukaemia Foundation says many organizations wrongly believe that they are too small to pull off an event this big. “We were working with a very small budget,” he says. “This started with one lady doing it for her friend. So you’ve got to think big....If you make some bold decisions, and really believe in what the event is, then you can grow like crazy.”

2. Connect the act to the message. “I always tell (organizations) to make sure there’s some relevance of the event to the actual cause itself rather than lets just do this and it’s for us,” David Simms says. “There needs to be a connecting story, I think.” The World’s Greatest Shave began when some people started shaving their heads for a friend with cancer. “Some of the strongest events are ones where there is inherently, in the very event itself, a little message about why you’re doing it.”

3. Keep it simple. Simms says organizations are often tempted to make things overcomplicated, and this turns potential participants away. “If you can’t say what the event is about in one sentence to someone next to you in an elevator or next to you in a bar, then you’ve made it too complicated.”

4. Keep the event open to as many people as possible. The event should be designed to allow the greatest number of people possible to participate, Simms says. The World’s Greatest Shave gives participants the option of colouring their hair. The “wimp version” of the event broadens the pool of potential participants. Movember similarly encourages its “Mo Sistas” to take part.

5. Keep it fun! Peter Bombaci sums up the key to campaign success: “something unique, tied around fun, and connected to a great cause.”

6. Advertise. “This is no different than a brand that is out there or any business that is trying to find its way in the challenging marketplace out there today,” Peter Bombaci says. “Just try to do things that are different and that stand out from everybody else who’s in your space.” David Simms suggests keeping advertising fun, because The World’s Greatest Shave has learned that “half of the people who do the event do it for fun.”

Heather Yundt is a freelance radio and print journalist based in Ottawa. She can be reached at or on Twitter @hyundt.

Photos (from top) via All photos used with permission.

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