It’s October and once again pink has pushed black and orange aside. Bright, happy and feminine…pink has become the unofficial color of breast cancer, but many of us living with the disease don’t always feel quite so cheerful about it as we face it on every aisle of the market, every store at the mall, every football game, in line, online and on TV.
I know that for the consumer, pink-shopping is a well-intended effort to make a difference. Since women are shoppers, and get breast cancer, it is a marketing marriage made in heaven, So much so that breast cancer is often referred to as the “mother of cause marketing.” However, it’s time to question whether the branding of breast cancer is good, and for whom.
Certainly, we know it is good for corporate America’s bottom line. It must be if packaging associations are promising their customers greater sales with pink; and if you can’t turn it pink, throw a pink ribbon on it.
Many groups, especially those making millions of dollars off Breast Cancer, Inc. don’t care that the lion’s share of the benefit line the pockets of corporate America. The charities that support or promote “pinkwashing” through dozens of corporate sponsorships on hundreds of products argue that even the pennies and nickels add up, which is true, but misleading.
If we can be satisfied with the goal of “awareness,” then I think we’re done getting the message out. After all, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who is unaware of breast cancer. Sadly, though, awareness has never cured cancer. Nor has education. Nor have mammograms. If our goal is awareness, we have set the bar too low, and the price — billions of dollars focused on breast cancer — far too high. “Awareness” is amorphous and vague. Since we will never be able to measure it, we can call whatever we do a success. Awareness is the low-hanging fruit. We can and must do better.
Better is research. Better is finding a vaccine and a cure. Better is understanding how, why and which cancer moves. My life depends on it, and so do those of the over 150,000 American women living with metastatic disease. Most of us don’t realize that breast cancer deaths are almost never the result of a local diagnosis in the breast. Over 90% of breast cancer deaths are a result of metastases, or movement from the breast to distant organs. All of the education and awareness in the world will never solve that problem. This is only one path to a cure – scientific research.
I know there are countless influential organizations, institutions, and well-meaning consumers, who want to change the face of breast cancer. And there is no question we need funding to find a cure. But if we are to maximize the impact of the money available, it is time to start asking some hard questions of both companies and non-profits that are bolstering their bottom lines through breast cancer, most especially when those companies are hocking products that are outright bad for us. So here are my questions?
Have we not gone too far when products like Mike’s Hard Pink Lemonade or Kentucky Fried Chicken sport pink ribbons? Worse perhaps, is Komen’s “Promise Me” me perfume, which contains carcinogenic ingredients banned by the International Fragrance Association.
Does a pink product even need to mention breast cancer to fly off the shelves in October? I’m talking about products with no affiliation with a breast cancer non-profit, no promise to donate any portion of proceeds?
Are we really making a difference when we a pink-ribboned product requires that we save and send in lids, or sign up online, or jump through other hoops to actually make the donation for our purchase?
What about when products contain mousescript disclosures that the dontations will be capped, or that only a penny or two will be donated?
Many argue that at least SOME money is going to breast cancer, right? That’s better than nothing…. Maybe. Maybe not. Not when products are linked to cancer, or do nothing at all for cancer. But even still, in order to understand the impact of shopping for a cure, we need to follow the money.
Here’s what we need to know to pink responsibly:
Has the manufacturer clearly identified a chairty it is support, or are they just pinking as a sales ploy?
Does the package indicate how much of a “donation” will be made? Is there a cap on the donations?
What do you have to do for the donation to be made? Are those steps reasonable, and ones you will take?
Once a donation is made, do you know how the charity uses the funds? More “awareness” funding, posh hotel rooms for well-paid executives, or patient support or research for a cure?
One great resource to get you thinking: Pink Ribbon Blues – The Website, by author and sociologist Gayle Sulik. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Gayle has focused her blog on “30 Days of Breast Cancer Awareness” and challenges us to think about breast cancer, pink, and where our current path to a cure is really taking us.
If we want to see change, we need to stop drinking the pink Kool-Aid and start focusing our energy and funding on a cure. Don’t go for the pink impulse buy — send that $2, $5, or $10 to a cause that is responsibiliy making a difference, either in the lives of patients, or in the world of research.
It’s time for all of us to pink responsibly.