MOVEMBER: On Making Impact and Expanding it's Movement


Micah Heykoop interviews Mark Hedstrom, SVP of Program Commercialization at Movember


Succeeding as a brand centered on a giveback message is hard. Sustaining a brand on the same message is actually impossible. If lightning strikes and you are able to rally people around a cause, you have to evolve the story or die in the coming years.


One enduring example of a brand that has continued to adjust its storytelling with the times is The Movember Foundation. The global men’s health charity that activates throughout the month of November to raise awareness for illnesses that are making men die too young.


While the story seemingly began around prostate cancer in men, it has since come into view that mental health and suicide prevention are an equally pressing issue. They are now evolving the story by creating a core message to stick with for years that has infinite stories that can be told off of it with the main theme being 'Stop Men Dying Too Young'.


I sat down with Mark Hedstrom, the SVP of Program Commercialization at Movember. In short, he helps decide how the money they raise is going to be distributed across causes, and plays a key role in creating new success stories and storylines for the brand.

photo credit

photo credit


Micah: I’d love to start with where Movember is at in its growth. You have been really expanding the story every year, where do you go now?


Mark: We've had this conversation about if you look at what brands like Nike do, if you look at -- you know, I came from Oakley, and we would tell one story for three years. That was their kind of run and then they would change it up a little bit. And what we've never done as an organization is come out front and center with why we exist, so one of our challenges was every year we would run an annual marketing campaign.


It was much more fun and focused around the fun aspects of growing a mustache and less about the serious. And one of our big challenges was people just thought we were this mustache thing, particularly in the States. Our home country, Australia, there's a high degree of awareness, perception and trust in the brand because we've been there so long that people know there's a foundation attached to it because a lot of men have actually been impacted by our work in Australia. Less so here, this massive market, how do you get your story out? It's absolutely over-saturated with non-profit charitable giving.


photo credit

photo credit

Micah: It’s not really that much different from any brand that exists in the United States. There is a ton of opportunity in the market, but when you can start anywhere, where do you start at all?


Mark: So how do you get your story through that? In a lot of ways we use the fun aspects of the campaign and we ran an annual marketing campaign that looked different every year. We did anything from guys in short shorts and headbands with the move, kind of physical activity background, to all the dudes, metal heads in particular, which was this really hard core, dark, I think the background music on the vibe clip was Slayer. 


Micah: Was that the year that had the wolf shirt and did all the hit and run screenprinting?


Mark: Yep.


Micah: Yeah, that was my favorite year for Movember.


Mark: Yeah and it’s exactly like we were talking to different portions of our community with each of those in some way, so I think we had some really successful campaigns, but the problem with that was, is, that people still didn't know who we were in a lot of ways. Some knew us, those were really connected to us or had been to the office or had seen, you know, Adam or myself or others give an interview.


They got it, but when you say, “Oh you know, I work from Movember,” I still get it till today, it's like, “Oh, what was that mustache thing?” The reality is there was no connection to the foundation or the work we do, that men's health cause, so last year was the first year we short-circuited this whole annual campaign kind of fun and came up front center with the serious side of the issue.


Micah: So where did you land?


Mark: So last year's campaign which we’ll continue through this year probably for quite some time is "Stop men dying too young." And that is very much about the cause. It is very much about what we are actually trying to do. The real challenge with a lot of us internally was, okay that's a massive change for us to your point about, you know, once you kind of get your head around the marketing campaign, by the time it actually hits you're already bored with it. You want to know what to do next year.


Now we're kind of in this model of actually sticking with what we're saying and actually getting that out there. And what that has done though is it has actually created a lot more connection to the work. So now the conversation when people engage in that campaign and that messaging is they clearly drive to what exactly the foundation does and what we're trying to do for men's health. 

Micah: That seems to open you up to deal with more issues. If you're saying it's to stop men from dying too young then it could be -- you wouldn't do it, but you could do childhood obesity in boys if you want to.


Mark: The ‘Stop men dying too young’ as we started looking at all the programs we were doing in the space, we had a very long conversation internally for probably 18 months about are we men's health charity, are we a prostate cancer charity, what in fact are we?


And so one of the big challenges, and it took quite some time getting folks like myself and others aligned and getting the programs' team onboard. These are people who're coming from research and clinical backgrounds and then you've got guys like myself who're more marketing based.


So as we move through our focus areas, we ultimately impact the number of men that are dying too young from those disease states. There is no question that we could eventually move into dealing with diabetes and really focusing on diet and exercise as one of the real challenges of that. We haven't gotten there yet. There's plenty of work to do. 


Micah: What are you excited about that will be around this Movember?


Mark: Yeah I think it's the marrying of the campaign, the program sides so a lot of the work that we're focusing on now is taking our health promotion strategy which is that big piece of work and really what that means is how do we use the right language to get men and boys to take action and then evaluate whether or not that's impactful.


So one of the things we've been really focusing on is the programmatic side that places who the campaign is for. For example, how do we build campaigns within Movember amongst that community and then look to ultimately provide programs and services back to them.


That's probably the most exciting piece for me. It's bridging that challenge we've had because we do hear from our community and 'What are you doing for me individually?' Now, you know, obviously we're doing a lot of work in prostate cancer. More direct work with certain communities than we have ever in the past. 

Micah: It's almost like a power user community.


Mark: Exactly and then that's putting it back to them and saying thank you for being involved. We want to be involved in helping you get to a better place and I think mental health has been probably the biggest opportunity in respect to that, simply because it is such a wide ranging issue and we have a very clear mandate to solve for that problem.  

Photo credit @Movember on Instagram

Photo credit @Movember on Instagram



Micah: So talk to me a bit more about when you guys realized that you had to find this umbrella of 'prevent men from dying too young.' Was it after one-year people felt kind of tired of this story or was it just like, well the campaign is getting too disparate from what we're doing?


Mark: Well I think it - it was actually a lot, it came out of programmatically we had a better sense of everything we've invested in. What was playing through and actually being impactful.


So if you talked to the clinicians, the researchers, those that we actually invest in, they had a very different perception of Movember as a brand than our community that fund-raised on our behalf. What that led us to is that it's ultimately that's where we want to get. We want to get to that call statement 'Stop men dying too young.'


Micah: And how do you start communicating that to the men as the end-users?


Mark: Men have conversations side by side. They don't have conversations face to face. 


Micah: Interesting.


Mark: So think about it, right. You have two guys sitting in a ball park watching a baseball game. How do those guys have a conversation over 9 innings? They have it side by side probably with a beer. Men don't often talk face to face. So our imagery, how we'd look putting him in environments they're used to being in, will always be there.


Micah: Yeah and so what year did mental health come into the picture?


Mark: It's actually - it's been around since '06 globally. We've done a significant amount of investment in Australia and New Zealand. We started investing in mental health in the rest of our big three markets: Canada, the US and the UK in 2014.


"We look at if we are creating behavior change amongst not just our community but those that see the foundation and the work that we're trying to do."

Micah: It seems like you guys have been super smart about how you're investing. That’s not just who it is going to but how, grants versus awards, things like that. So how are you measuring success right now?


I feel like it can be tough when there's not like an "okay, right now we just fixed prostate cancer, we're done baby."

Mark: We look at if we are creating behavior change amongst not just our community but those that see the foundation and the work that we're trying to do. Then on the programmatic side from a prostate cancer perspective there's really 2 things. The amount of men who have died from the disease has dropped 50% in the last 25 years.

Micah: Wow!


Mark: So we're solving for the problem. We actually see a point in time where most men will survive the disease. Men will still die, it will be caught too late, they have a rare form, the treatment pattern doesn't work, right?  But ultimately, we would hope that that gets to as close to zero as possible and we're on that pathway.


From a mental health perspective, to take another big piece of work is, within some of the programs that we've funded particularly those that have more maturity out of Australia, some work we're doing up in Canada with First Nations, is showing real improvement in small populations that are most at risk. So we're talking of First Nation communities in northern Canada that have 15 times the suicide rate as the national average in Canada. In a tiny population. So how do you actually go in and solve that problem? First cause you can solve it there, with the right framework ultimately you can solve it in.


Micah: Which is the scalable piece that you talked about.


Mark: Exactly which is the scalable piece. So how do you actually find the tip of the spear problem areas, communities that are really challenged here it's men and boys of color and veterans and service members, those are 2 areas that we see as huge opportunity.

photo credit @movember on Instagram

photo credit @movember on Instagram



Micah: So from your time here do you have a favorite impact story?


Mark: So one of the things I'm most excited about is our issue called TrueNTH which is really looking at how we solve for better informing the care teams, the clinicians, better informing the patient and putting the patient back at the center of the conversation - the moment that patient is told they have prostate cancer. It's 27 different types, some are lethal, some are fairly low grade and that you could watch for some time.


And then getting that man and that clinical team on the same conversation, on the same pathway to treating that individual man. That's probably the most exciting thing that I think that we're doing is identifying, and the reason we're doing that is that's really intervention. You spend a lot of time in treatment. We know we're going to hopefully get that number of twenty-eight thousand closer to zero.


Micah: So last question: Any specific hopes for this year? Anything about the 2017 campaign or the work that you guys are doing that you want to let people know about?


Mark: I think the permanent campaign with respect to this is staying with the serious side but balancing with the fun. We want to really engage and encourage the community that support us as well as the larger community around them to start having the conversation about mental health for men and boys. I think from my perspective that is one of the biggest challenges we as a society face and I would say that probably a lot of the markets that we're in, that's the conversation that needs to happen. It's starting to happen. You can see it percolating through but it is something that needs to break out because we can't continue to push the stuff to the side as an individual man and we can't push it aside as a society. 


See more of Movember's work at