October 30, 2014

Creators of Pumpkin-Themed ‘Smash Diabetes’ Campaign Bemoan Timing

Dana Ball admits he "took a moment and cried a little" when the ALS Ice-Bucket Challenge exploded into a social-media phenomenon that raised roughly $115-million for the ALS Association.

Mr. Ball didn’t begrudge the ALS Association the money it raised for research or the awareness it raised. He just wished it had come a year later, after the Smash Diabetes campaign his organization was working on for months had made its mark on the world.

Some at T1D Exchange, a nonprofit that funds and coordinates research into type 1 diabetes, pushed to scrap the campaign, one featuring videos of people smashing pumpkins to show the frustration of living with a chronic disease that requires constant monitoring of blood-sugar levels.

But for Mr. Ball, November 1 and the start of Diabetes Awareness Month was the right time to launch, even if some of the uniqueness had been doused.

Since the Ice-Bucket Challenge, a number of similar social-media campaigns have followed, with far less success. The Rice-Bucket Challenge and the Rubble-Bucket Challenge generated little attention, and the Wake-Up Call, self-photos taken at first blink, caught some fire on Twitter, but nothing like the No Make-Up Selfie, which raised more than $12-million for cancer research in Britain.

"I have no expectations at all that it would match the Ice-Bucket Challenge," Mr. Ball says of the Smash Diabetes campaign. "If we were successful in raising $500,000 this year, to help support the research we do, we would consider that a success."

His goal would be more in line with Movember, a drive to raise money and awareness for prostate cancer that started in Australia in 2003. Participants grow mustaches and shave them off and post the videos. In a decade, Movember has spread to 29 countries and generated roughly $4-million.

Mr. Ball says the idea of smashing pumpkins came from the people who share stories and information on, a web page managed by T1D.

Everyone has gourds and pumpkins that rot after Halloween, and smashing them is fun, he says. Participants are encouraged to post their videos on a social-media platform of their choice with the #smashdiabetes hashtag.

"We want you to project your anger on an inanimate object," Mr. Ball says. "It’s catchy."

Anna Floreen, an advancement outreach manager with T1D, based in Boston, understands the anger. Now 31, she was diagnosed with type 1ne diabetes 25 years ago.

The auto-immune disease that prevents her body from producing insulin forces her to act as her own doctor 24 hours a day, constantly planning her meals, workouts, and social activities, not to mention regularly monitoring her blood-sugar levels. It also costs a "load of money," Floreen says.

"It’s a constant interruption of what you want to be doing with your time," she says.

Estimates on the number of people in the U.S. with type 1 diabetes vary, from 1 million to 2 million. By contrast, the number of people with type 2 diabetes is roughly 29.1 million, according to the American Diabetes Association.

"I secretly get excited when I see someone with a tube hanging out of their pocket, because there’s a chance they might be living with the same disease as me," Ms. Floreen says. "My biggest hope is that more and more people will start to understand the need for more education and a discussion of type 1 diabetes in general."