IDF Diabetes Video – Beware the Diabetes Dementors


I had the opportunity to see Mike & Jess in person last week (what a treat!) and at some point our conversation turned toward the new IDF diabetes awareness video that Mike blogged about a few days ago. To refresh your memories, here it is again: 


At that point, I’d read the press release from the International Diabetes Federation but hadn’t yet seen the video, and from what I’d read, it sounded like a good idea — while I am not sure of the best way to convey the message of the dangers of diabetes, I do think it’s important to acknowledge that diabetes is actually an extremely serious disease. (I mean, how many other medical conditions can claim to increase your risk for everything from heart disease to blindness to kidney failure to stroke to amputation, using nothing but sugar? It’s really quite the multi-tasker.) I think that too often people brush off diabetes (especially Type 2) as not a big deal because high blood sugar doesn’t cause immediate pain — and people who don’t have diabetes tend to think that at best you just don’t eat donuts, and at worst you have to stick yourself with needles (I don’t give a shit about needles). In short, there needs to be better education all around.

So at first I pushed back at Mike’s critique of the video. But then I saw it. And while, like Mike, I applaud the IDF for trying to address the touchy subject of how to educate people about the seriousness of the condition without scaring them to the point that they choose to ignore it, I also have issues with how IDF chose to convey this message. 

As Mike points out, the video shows a plume of smoke following skinny people down the street, seeping into them in the style of Harry Potter dementors, and leaving them clutching their chests or passing out on the street. The video follows the plume of smoke as it swoops down to attack an innocent man, swoops him up, and deposits him in . . . a grave. Then, the tagline: “Diabetes Kills.” Followed by “Learn How to Stay Healthy” (and the encouragement to “protect our future” by visiting the IDF site).

Uh, okay? As a person with Type 1, I understand what they’re trying to convey. Diabetes is invisible and nefarious, able to inflict damage on your body slowly over time — and with Type 2 it’s quite possible to ignore it for years and then be felled by a dramatic, diabetes-related event like a stroke. Diabetes can indeed land you in the grave. A lot of people have it, and a lot more people probably have it (or are at risk) and don’t know that they do.

But coming at it from the point of view of someone who does not already know a lot about diabetes, let’s see what this ad conveys. First, there is no distinction between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, which — as we all know — are very different diseases. I’m assuming the ad is primarily focused on people with Type 2, so I’m willing to have my branch of diabetes ignored, but in order to clarify this, I’d appreciate a little “Type 2 Diabetes Kills” or some other sort of indication of the ad’s audience. (I mean, can you imagine a little kid with Type 1 seeing this ad? Jesus! How would you ever be able to fall asleep again if you were convinced there were diabetes dementors in your closet just waiting to swoop you up in a cloud of smoke? The IDF may want to issue an apology to parents whose children are now terrified of bedtime.)

Second, there’s no indication of what Type 2 diabetes actually is or what it’s caused by. Like, maybe the animation could have hinted at lifestyle factors, making its figures a little less stick-thin, or having them engage in risk factors, like gulping huge sodas, or sitting in front of the TV or in cars — not strolling down the street. 

Third, there’s no indication of how diabetes actually causes damage. If this video is to believed, it gives you a heart attack on the street — in other words, it attacks suddenly and completely without warning. But as we know, this is not the case — it’s a *chronic* disease. Yes, I get that it’s hard to do a time-lapse video that illustrates the effects of years of neglect. But if you’re going to go for drama, why not have the cloud of smoke do more specific diabetes-related things, like blinding people or cutting off their legs? 

I recognize that last point may sound overly dramatic and uncomfortable to watch — last time I checked, animated amputations didn’t do particularly well with focus groups. But if the point of the video is to demonstrate the true dangers of diabetes, to show that it is not a disease to be taken lightly, then why not accurately address what the risks actually are?

Right now the video inhabits a nebulous middle ground where it hints that (Type 2) diabetes is scary and can be deadly, but does not actually give any concrete information about what causes it, who’s at risk, how you can prevent it, or what its actual complications are. It would be like making an anti-smoking video showing non-smoking people being attacked by a giant cigarette and then spontaneously combusting: it doesn’t make sense. 

Again, I don’t know what the research is on the effectiveness of scare tactics, but I do wonder if there’s a diabetic equivalent of the Marlboro man out there. (Because who doesn’t remember the Marlboro man?) Not, as Mike pointed out, a person who has been photo-shopped to look like an amputee — but someone who actually ignored Type 2 for a long time, and now is suffering the consequences. Yes, it would be uncomfortable to have to watch a 30-second spot showing a blind amputee talking about the dangers of diabetes, but at least that message would actually convey real information — and stick in people’s minds, no matter how unpleasant it might be. 

I don’t mean to bash the IDF; I think it’s great that they’re experimenting with new ways to convey their message. But I do think there’s a lot of room for improvement. They could even use their own archives for inspiration. Take this video, for example, which I found on the IDF website. It’s a bit disjointed, and again conflates Type 1 and Type 2 — but at least it conveys concrete facts and statistics about the disease:


In short: I applaud the attempt, but I hope the next one’s better. In the meantime, I will be watching over my shoulder for suspicious plumes of smoke. . . . 

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Alanna Stockley
9 years ago

I agree with you~
I also couldn’t help but get the image of the smoke monster from LOST out of my head. Which…made it kind of amusing…and not in a good way.

9 years ago

Catherine – to me, your blog was perfectly expressed and matched my feelings/perceptions about the video :).  If this ad had been used as a teaching tool when I first learned I have diabetes (initially diagnosed as Type 2, only because I’m an adult, in 2010; dr. changed diagnosis to LADA in 2011, after I educated him on the differences between Type 2 & LADA), I would never have felt any reason to try and manage it.  What would be the point, when the Grim Reaper would be coming to end my life, while young and relatively skinny?  At least… Read more »

9 years ago

True  But inactivity, obesity and poor eating are definite *risk factors* for type 2. So if they’re trying to spread awareness about risk factors for type 2 and possible consequences of not managing  type 2 once you’ve been diagnosed, it would make sense to illustrate some of those risk factors.  Thank you for your point!

9 years ago

Not all type 2’s are fat and lazy. And not all type 1’s take care of themselves. 

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