Digital firm behind Bollywood actor Poonam Pandey’s ‘death’ from cervical cancer stunt issues apology

The digital agency behind Poonam Pandey’s campaign to raise awareness about cervical cancer by faking her death apologised after a huge backlash.

Digital agency Schbang said on their Instagram account they would like to extend a “heartfelt apology – especially towards those who have been triggered as a result of having faced/having a loved one face the hardships of any kind of cancer”.

Schbang, however, also defended the campaign by saying that it was an “action driven by the mission to elevate awareness about cervical cancer”.

On 2 February, a post from Pandey’s official account, which has more than 1.3 million followers, said she had died from cervical cancer at the age of 32.

“This morning is a tough one for us,” the statement said.

“Deeply saddened to inform you that we have lost our beloved Poonam to cervical cancer. Every living form that ever came in contact with her was met with pure love and kindness.”

The news was later “confirmed” by Pandey’s team to a number of Indian national news outlets while her manager Nikita Sharma hailed her “unwavering spirit amidst her health struggles” in a statement to the press.

Soon after it was revealed that Pandey was still alive and faking her “death” had been a publicity stunt to raise awareness about cervical cancer.

“I feel compelled to share something significant with you all, I am here, alive,” she wrote, alongside a video of her addressing the stunt and the awareness campaign. “Cervical cancer didn’t claim me but tragically, it has claimed the lives of thousands of women who stemmed from a lack of knowledge on how to tackle this disease.

“Unlike some other cancers, cervical cancer is entirely preventable. The key lies in the HPV vaccine and early detection tests. We have the means to ensure no one loses their life to this disease. Let’s empower one another with critical awareness and ensure every woman is informed about the steps to take,” she said.

On Saturday, the digital agency behind the campaign issued a statement in which they said: “Yes, we were involved in the initiative for Poonam Pandey to spread awareness about Cervical Cancer in collaboration with Hauterfly.”

Schbang noted that the “act by Pandey” resulted in making cervical cancer and similar terms the most searched topics on Google and according to the company, “this is the first time in the history of this country that the word ‘cervical cancer’ has been on over 1000 headlines”.

It added that this was a “pro bono activity and not commercially linked to any client”.

It noted that in 2022, India registered 123,907 cervical cancer cases and 77,348 deaths.

The statement mentions that “many of you may be unaware but Poonam’s own mother has bravely battled cancer”.

“Having been through the challenges of battling a disease like this at such close personal quarters, she understands the importance of prevention and the criticality of awareness, especially when a vaccine is available.”

Pandey’s stunt was called “unpalatable” and “distasteful” by several social media users.

Schbang continued: “We understand that our methods may have sparked a debate about the approach. While we regret any distress caused, if the move results in spreading much-needed awareness and preventing deaths, that would be its real impact.”