AstraZeneca’s Celebration Chain takes no chances

Picture 3AstraZeneca‘s Arimidex-branded Celebration Chain offers friends and family the opportunity to ‘honour special women in [their] lives who have overcome or are fighting breast cancer, and to celebrate their unique, endearing qualities’.

Users begin by creating a ‘Celebration Doll’:


Next, they personalize the skin tone, hair, and outfit of their doll:


Finally, they select up to 4 ‘celebration options’ and an accompanying soundtrack:

celebration options

Users can then email an invitation to the recipient to view a Flash animation of their ‘Celebration Doll’ engaged in their ‘celebration options’. Subsequent supporters can send the individual represented by the doll virtual hugs with personalized messages.

This low-grade patient support vehicle is a similar concept to that utilized by the Novartis Oncology CML earth site, but (in my opinion) nowhere near as effective. To date, the site proclaims the fact that ‘18,640 women have [received] 31,616 celebrations from their family and friends,’ but I’m struggling to see why they’d bother.

Perhaps the first point to make is that the site is aimed at relatives and acquaintances of those who have experienced or currently have breast cancer, not the individuals themselves. The creators doubtless see their invitations as a gesture of solidarity to show that the person in question is in their thoughts.

That’s all good.

What is less good is the fact this site in no way captures the diversity of experience that each breast cancer patient passes through that affects not only them, but also everyone whose lives they touch. Theirs is a spectrum of experience that may engender inspiration, hope, strength, but may also encounter dejection, despair and frailty. The latter should not be shied away from, and the site’s relentlessly upbeat tone (even its name) denies them the right to acknowledge the totality of their experience. None of the latter are conditions unique to the breast cancer patient: they are part of the wider human condition, and for all of us at some point, the unfortunate but inevitable corollary to the difficult business of being alive.

Far from celebrating a breast cancer patient’s individuality, Celebration Chain robs them of it.


Everything about this initiative positively screams “CORPORATE-BLAND” at me, from the teeth-grindingly awful music that pollutes the site, to the conservative outfits users are forced to clothe their dolls in, to the prim-and-proper hairstyles (scarf excluded), and the dull, dull soundtrack and celebration options. And by the way: men get breast cancer, too.

Know a 20-something Emo type with piercings, a fashionable crop, very particular taste in their clothes, music, and pastimes, and breast cancer? They’re not going to appreciate your sending them this Stepford Wives-styled ‘celebration doll’, unless they have a particularly refined sense of the ironic. They may also raise an eyebrow at the fact that AstraZeneca is offering to donate ‘$1, up to a total of $25,000, to a breast cancer charity’ for every doll created in light of the fact that Arimidex generated revenues of $1,857M (+3% against prior year) in 2008.

This is old pharma thinking in a (barely) new media setting, as coldly mechanistic and inhuman as the eerie, faceless celebration dolls themselves.

A better solution for any pharma company wanting to engage with the breast cancer community (or indeed any patient community) would be: create a sponsored community space where those with breast cancer can make connections, share experiences, support one another, celebrate their individuality, but also feel included as part of a bigger community.

There are as many stories to be told about breast cancer as there are people with breast cancer.

Let them be people. Don’t make them be patients.

12 thoughts on “AstraZeneca’s Celebration Chain takes no chances

  1. Andrew, interesting analysis. You can easily imagine how this project started as a really good idea with a lot of creative and a lot more personalization, and then step by step, meeting by meeting, it got watered down to this. Hopefully in the future AZ or others will seize boldness and get much better results too.

  2. Hi Kevin

    Thank you for your comment. I have to agree, although you need to dig deep and look hard in order to begin to be able to perceive the good intentions that may have been the catalyst for this concept.

  3. Hi – as a breast cancer survivor and as a Visual Branding expert I do agree with you on this.

    This is too corporate “Bland” – all I wanted was HUMOR and FUN. I watched evey comedy I could and only read mindless books.

    It is nice for the family to be able to give something to the cancer patient – and just as important to accept it. I had to learn how to accept help – and good wishes.


    • Hi Christine

      Thank you for having taken the time to leave a comment to this post. I very much appreciate your having shared your perspective on Celebration Chain as a breast cancer survivor, and concur with you entirely.

      There’s a lot of boldness out there that needs seizing. 🙂

    • Hi Stacy

      By all means, and thank you for asking. If you’d be kind enough to share the URL in a further comment (assuming that the forum does not require registration to view), I’d appreciate it.

  4. With all due respect, I think it’s admirable that AZ has put up this site. It’s a bold step for big pharma as they are always 5-10 years behind the rest of the world in consumer maarketing. It takes a long time for them to figure out new technologies, get them accepted internally by senior management (who have never marketed to consumers), and then get great agency concepts through the extremely rigorous legal and regualtory approval process. As Kevin said, they do get watered down and it’s sometimes a fight to keep the “cool stuff” in there. And this is not just at AZ, it’s pretty much the same at all big pharma. As time goes on they will loosen up and get better at this.

    • Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I intend (obviously :)) to respect your decision to remain anonymous, but the pseudonym you’ve chosen to adopt signifies the fact that you’re happy to step up and acknowledge that you work for an agency and therefore have a vested interest in wanting to see the good in this.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, but for all the reasons I state above, I have yet to be convinced that this will all come good at some point in the indeterminate future for AstraZeneca on the basis of what I have seen so far.

      What’s missing from most pharma companies’ social media activities is a foregrounding of the fact that they understand the transition from transactional to relational activity that is taking place within the environments that they think they should be participating in, although one often feels as though they haven’t defined by social media is important to them before embarking upon some of the half-cocked campaigns that are out there. In order to do so, pharma companies need to adopt a qualitatively different way of conducting themselves.

      The irony is that the longer they put off launching elements of this migration, the harder it is going to be for them to attain their objectives. Those companies that are present, embracing the #failbetter ethos, making small mistakes, achieving small successes, are the ones that are already beginning to enjoy modest benefits in terms of the trust that they are gaining and the brand-advocacy and reputation-augmentation that is accompanying it.

      So yes, the water’s cold, but if you want to be in the swim, you’ve got to jump in at some point.

  5. Andrew,

    This was actually (in my opinion) a very cutting edge activity when it was launched over 3 years ago if you compare it to what else was out there at the time.

    I agree with you that if launched in the current web environment it looks extremely dated and is hardly pushing the envelope.

    AZ was back in the day an early adopter of web marketing, sadly it has fallen by the wayside as the digital team in GMO Alerley House has disbanded and the set up of a team in Brussels ISMO has taken too long and comprises of people who want ‘quick and dirty’ solutions to their eMarketing.

    AZ’s biggest mistake has been to not maintain, take ownership and push forward their internet assets that were, once, one of the top 3 in Pharma.

    In 2004 they had an online CV community that comprised of over 150,000 physicians… chicken-feed by today’s standards (Sermo) but in the words of Bully: “look what you would have won”.

    I also fear for their US digital activities – they are also starting to show the wear and tear of having the same agency year after year spitting out the same old template.


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