Why a Portuguese soccer match started with both teams missing two players

The Portuguese League Against Cancer set out to raise cancer awareness through sport.

Company: Portuguese League Against Cancer in partnership with Liga de Portugal
Campaign: Two out of the game
Agency partners: Lola Normajean (creative), FIM (production)
Duration: November 2-4, 2019

A soccer match between Benfica and Rio Ave in November began with both teams missing two players. The message was simple: 2 out of 11 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and any absence matters in any team. The stunt, meant to be a stark visual reminder of prostate cancer’s frequency, came from the Portuguese League Against Cancer in partnership with the Football Foundation.

In Portugal, prostate cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in men, affecting a higher percentage of the population than in many other developed nations. If detected at an early stage, prostate cancer is highly curable, with a remission rate of more than 95%. For men over 45, regular tests are crucial in order to catch the disease before it progresses. 

"Men are often not comfortable doing this, so they resist," said Rodrigo Silva Gomes, CEO of ad agency Lola Normajean. "It’s a very simple test but it’s a bit intrusive. 

The idea for the campaign originated at Lola Normajean’s office. It was late at night, there was a football match on TV — Benfica was playing in the Champions League — and the agency’s staffers commiserated about having to miss the game to work. From this conversation, the idea sprang to life: What if there was a way to speak directly to soccer fans, a largely male demographic, about Portugal’s high diagnosis rate and the dangers of forgoing regular prostate screenings? 

The idea originated in fall 2018. Moving from conception to reality was a long process.

"You have lots of protocols," Gomes said. "When you have a game there are lots of parts involved. The [Portuguese Football Federation] and the Football Foundation have to authorize it and the teams have to agree to it also. It took almost one year to have everyone onboard."

The brand activation was featured in all 18 games during week 10 in the Portuguese football league system, which were played between November 2-4, 2019. Participating teams included Benfica, FC Porto, Rio Ave, Farense and Estoril Praia. 

The campaign generated 15 earned digital placements from national and international outlets. It was also covered on Portugal’s national news station TVI and sports channel Sport TV+.

Official campaign posts received more than 1,000 likes on social media, while a post about the campaign on the Portuguese League Against Cancer’s Facebook page was shared 163 times. 

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