Ladyballs, a provocative Canadian campaign to promote awareness about ovarian cancer, an often silent killer, has sparked controversy in social media and marketing circles.

Ovarian Cancer Canada's cheeky pitch to donors aims to clear the confusion about ovarian cancer in women's gonads.

"Women have balls too. And they're at risk," the public service announcement states.

"Have the ladyballs to do something about it."

On Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, women and men both applauded the move and questioned it.


Ovarian Cancer Canada's Ladyballs campaign grabs attention, but then what? (Ovarian Cancer Canada)

"But when are we going to call testicles 'brovaries,'" asked Lisa @BlueRaveFinn.

On YouTube, Tai Viinikka "Have the gonads to do something about it." Might work...

Colleen B2 said as an ovarian cancer survivor, she respects the group's efforts, but finds the ladyballs ad insulting. She felt the "efforts missed the mark here and only managed to alienate many women."

On Facebook, others said they found the ad sexist.

Such naysayers represent about 10 to 15 per cent of the response to edgy campaigns, said Alan Middleton, a professor of marketing at York University's Schulich School of Business in Toronto.

Positive impression?

"The question is of the remaining 85 per cent — is it acceptable enough so that people will actually want to go and give money," said Middleton.

The ad succeeds in grabbing attention and asks people to make connections between courage and female gonads, Middleton said.

But to him, the video doesn't follow through on the key next step of leaving viewers with a positive impression to donate.

For a not-for-profit charity, the goal of raising awareness alone isn't enough when so many other health charities are competing for attention and funds.

The goal of the campaign is simply to start a conversation to get women comfortable talking about their ovaries, said Lauren Richards, an ovarian cancer survivor in Toronto and a media executive involved in launching the campaign.

"We are not funded by any other sources but individuals, so it's time that we brought this to the mainstream of conversation, so attention is given to this disease," said Karen Cinq Mars, vice-president of marketing at Ovarian Cancer Canada.

Women may not fully understand gynecological anatomy and mistakenly think a Pap test will detect ovarian cancer.

There is no screening test for ovarian cancer.

The group says common signs and symptoms are often vague and may be mistakenly attributed to other causes:

  • Increased abdominal size, persistent bloating.
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly.
  • Pain in pelvic or abdominal areas.
  • Urinary urgency or frequency.

If the symptoms are new in the last year, present for three weeks and happen frequently, a woman should see her doctor.

Richards initially thought she had a urinary tract infection and was given antibiotics that had no effect. Her doctor sent her for a transvaginal ultrasound, which detected a cyst. An MRI was ordered and then she had surgery.

Without a reliable detection test, Cinq Mars said, women have to be their own best advocates.