It's not just the aesthetics, it's the commercialization of breast cancer that leaves me itchy. Barbara Ehrenreich's "Welcome to Cancerland: A mammogram leads to a cult of pink kitsch" essay for Harper's Magazine best summarizes the growing malaise I have about the business of breast cancer. Her article made me stop and question why mainstream cancer advocacy groups aren't doing more research into the environmental causes of cancer. It also made me think more critically about the infantilization of women (from pink clothes to historically limited medical options) around this issue. And it's nearly October (Breast Cancer Awareness month), when marketers go nuts with their pink campaigns.
Marketers Think Pink for Breast Cancer AwarenessDon't get me wrong — I think that many companies do admirable things by connecting consumer altruism with their self-interest (the corporate bottom line). And right now, my former roommate's fighting for her life after her recent breast cancer diagnosis ... so it's very top-of-mind for me as we go into October and I see pink everything, everywhere. It's tempting to buy, buy, buy to help raise funds for this important cause. (Nevermind that there are more effective ways to fight this disease than shopping, for chrissakes.)
by Tanya Irwin, Monday, Sep 24, 2007 5:00 AM ET
DOZENS OF COMPANIES ARE GETTING on the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October) bandwagon, creating special pink-themed merchandise and donating a portion of proceeds to breast cancer research.
Companies are increasingly using breast cancer cause marketing to reinforce their brand images and differentiate themselves from their competitors. Many marketers have partnered with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which hosts the Komen Race for the Cure events.
Komen's corporate partners include those who are on the Komen Million Dollar Council. In addition to a financial contribution of at least $1 million, each commits to spreading educational messages. The companies include American Airlines, BMW of North America, Boston Market, Ford Division, Hallmark Gold Crown Stores, KitchenAid, Lean Cuisine, M&M Brand Chocolate Candies, Pier 1 Imports and Yoplait USA.
Sure, it sounds noble: a cosmetics company promises that if you buy one of its products, a portion of the sale will go toward “the fight against breast cancer.” But what if that cosmetic contains chemicals that might actually increase your risk of developing the disease? It kills me to see companies who are part of the problem (like cosmetics manufacturers who continue to use carcinogens like paraben and phthalates) wrap themselves in pink to make a buck.
Breast Cancer Action is a grassroots organization of breast cancer survivors and their supporters at the forefront of the breast cancer activist movement. It reminds consumers to question the amount of money being donated to breast cancer compared to the amount being spent on marketing, the types of programs the money supports and what a company is doing to ensure its products are not contributing to the breast cancer epidemic. This year, the group is focusing its efforts on what it calls "pinkwashers" —companies that promote a pink-ribbon campaign but manufacture a product that may be contributing to the disease.
In short, it's time to think before you pink. Ask these questions before you run out and buy a product because it "supports the fight against breast cancer."
Companies are increasingly using breast cancer cause marketing to reinforce their brand image and differentiate themselves from their competitors. Navigating the expanding sea of pink ribbon promotions requires consumers to ask a few critical questions:
How much money from each product sold actually goes toward breast cancer?
For example, Yoplait donates ten cents for every pink yogurt lid mailed back to the company—it would take 4 lids just to make up for the price of the stamp. If a company is not giving as much as you think it should, you might choose to give directly to an organization or charity instead.
What percentage of the purchase price does this represent?
Many companies are ambiguous about the amount they donate from each purchase. For example, Ralph Lauren’s Pink Pony Products range in price from $10 to $598, yet the only information given to consumers is that “a portion of the proceeds from Pink Pony products benefits the Pink Pony Fund for Cancer Care and Prevention.” The consumer has no way of knowing how much money from each product is actually being donated.
What is the maximum amount that will be donated?
Some companies place a cap on the amount they will donate, meaning that if you happen to buy the product after the cap is reached, your dollars will not go towards the charity. In 2005, Cartier’s Roadster Watch promised to benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Although each watch cost $3,900.00, the maximum amount Cartier donated from the total sales was $30,000.00. That’s less than the price of 8 watches.
How much money was spent marketing the product?
In a 2005 PR Week article, 3M touted that its 2004 breast cancer awareness effort, involving a 70-foot-tall ribbon made of Post-it Notes in Times Square, reached more than 3 million people and increased sales 80% over expectations. The article reports that 3M spent $500,000 on the marketing campaign (no actual numbers on profits were released), but only gave a little over half of that amount ($300,000) to the cause.
To what breast cancer organization does the money go, and what types of programs does it support?
If research, what kind? Is it the same type of studies we’ve been doing for decades that already gets enormous financial support, or is it innovative research into the causes of breast cancer that always struggles for funds?
If services, is it reaching the people who need it most? Campaigns that are not locally focused may siphon funds away from the community and give them to larger programs that are already well funded.
If advocacy and education, do the programs make steps towards ending the epidemic? Programs supporting “breast health awareness” ignore that we are already well aware that cancer is a problem and it’s time to move from awareness to action.
What is the company doing to assure that its products are not contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?
Many companies that raise funds for breast cancer also make products that may be contributing to the epidemic. Is the promotion a golf tournament on a golf course sprayed with pesticides? Is $1 being given each time you test-drive a polluting car, as in BMW’s Ultimate Drive Campaign? Are the products being sold cosmetics containing chemicals linked to breast cancer?
Far too many marketing campaigns exist for it to be possible to trace the threads of profit for each, and it’s difficult to verify whether or not a promotion is legitimate while you’re standing in the store. Make the best choice you can with the information you have. If you have trouble getting answers or if you feel that a promotion is questionable, write to the company responsible, consider buying a different product, tell your friends, and/or contact BCA.