30 Under 30: Yael Cohen

The future of Canada’s marketing industry will be shaped by its youngest talent—the super-worldly, plugged-in, brilliant and creative youth who are already making a name for themselves. Marketing put out the call to the industry to find the top 30 standouts under the age of 30 who have already made their mark on the industry. […]

The future of Canada’s marketing industry will be shaped by its youngest talent—the super-worldly, plugged-in, brilliant and creative youth who are already making a name for themselves. Marketing put out the call to the industry to find the top 30 standouts under the age of 30 who have already made their mark on the industry.

From PR to advertising to media and beyond, our 30 Under 30 showcases the smartest, bravest and most creative ones to watch in the business.

Yael Cohen, 25

Chief Cancer Fucker (CEO), Fuck Cancer

People in their 20s aren’t supposed to be this good at their jobs. At 25, Yael Cohen has already built a remarkable media footprint dedicated to promoting Fuck Cancer, her Vancouver-based charitable organization. From TED Talks to White House visits, international conferences to morning television shows (how do you get a brand with that word in its name on daytime TV?), Cohen has been promoting the cause of early cancer detection—specifically aiming her message at young people—in her role as the charity’s “chief cancer fucker” since 2009. She even got a write up in Fast Company.

That visibility, plus some creative marketing campaigns and a few celebrity allies, led to a nearly 300% increase in Fuck Cancer’s revenue in 2011. Though she’s not a trained marketer, she seems to understand what much of the industry is struggling to learn about the online generation: honesty is the best policy. The name and the attitude are part of that. She’s not trying to “raise awareness.” She’s trying to screw-over a deadly disease. Why mince words?

“Don’t think you’re smarter than your community or clients,” she says. “People are smart, and getting smarter thanks to the internet. They don’t like to be sold to. Fully believe in what you do and tell people why you bring value in an honest and authentic way.” This is why she drops her charity’s full name on stage at a fancy dress gala as easily as she does in one-on-one interviews.

But how far can she defend her potty-mouth brand postion? Yes, it’s getting attention now, but eventually it will be more a hindrance than a help. Newspapers don’t print “fuck.” The website (LetsFCancer.com) skirts it to be more search friendly, and the government made it register for charitable status as “Yael’s Indaba Charitable Initiative Society.” Once the novelty wears off, the organization will rebrand, right?

No effing way.

“The whole point of the movement is authenticity and a rawness that we don’t seem to be allowed to have—letting people be brave and vulnerable,” she says. “To choose a different name didn’t really seem authentic. We take a stand. A lot of companies are really scared to put their foot down and say ‘This is what we believe in,’ because they want to please everybody.

“What you end up doing is diluting your mission and your message so that everybody likes it. But then you’re beige, you resonate with no one. People either love us or we’re not for them. And that’s fine. We’re built for our community, our demographic. If we don’t resonate with you, I’m totally okay with that and I’m not going to try to convince you.”

There’s lots more with Yael Cohen and the full the 30 Under 30 in the Sept. 10 issue of Marketing magazine.

Photo: Darrell Lecorre

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