Feeling Pinked Out?

SAN DIEGO - OCTOBER 03: The shoes of Travis Johnson  of the San Diego Chargers are seen prior to the start of the game against the Arizona Cardinals at Qualcomm Stadium on October 3, 2010 in San Diego, California. Throughout October, NFL games will feature players, coaches and referees wearing pink game apparel to help raise awareness about breast cancer. The Chargers defeated the Cardinals 41-10. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)How ’bout those pink-shod NFL players? Ahhhhh, do try the pink lemonade compliments of Delta airlines, and since they do not throw in a pink dinner, be sure to bring your own pink bucket of KFC.  Tell me, have you enlisted your kitty in the cause for The Cure with pink Purina cat food?

If you’ve just arrived and concluded there’s a color deficit around here, I assure you, it’s temporary.  It is Breast Cancer Awareness Month!  Time to shop, wear pink denim, shop, invest, shop, run, shop, bike, shop, mountain climb and did I mention, shop, for The Cure.

Sarcasm aside, Breast Cancer Awareness Month truly does have deep personal significance to me.  There is hardly a woman on the maternal side of my family who hasn’t had breast cancer, some of them more than once, and I have my very own Breast Cancer genes (BRCA2), minus my breasts.  Breast cancer tends to be on my mind one way or the other 12 months of every year.  I’m all for dedicating a month to raising awareness and funding for research and/or support for preventative care and women diagnosed with the disease.

I’ve run a lot of races for The Cure and have attended a number of events in solidarity with a growing sea of pink-ribboned women and yet I’m starting to question the substance of some of these Pink campaigns.  I also confess that the more pink ribbons I see, the more I get to wondering about all those folks coping with, surviving, or succumbing to the other 35 or so types of cancer.  The more I think about my father’s unsuccessful battle with pancreatic cancer, my dear lifelong friend and a cousin who both succumbed to lung cancer just last year (only 1 of them a smoker), and my other cousin who died of brain cancer, and the estimated 12,500 children who will be diagnosed with cancer this year.  And back to those BRCA genes. They don’t just threaten breasts, they’re after our ovaries as well, but I don’t see any teal ribbons out there.

So I did a little research and no great surprise, found I’m not the only woman who has surrendered her breasts in an effort to gain life but yet questions the direction Pink is going. But before questioning the future, I thought I’d look backwards to find out where the whole idea of Pink October came from…

In 1992, 68-year-old Charlotte Haley, the grand-daughter, sister, and mother of women who had battled breast cancer began making peach colored loops in her dining room and then handed them out at the local supermarket accompanied by a card that read, “The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention.  Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.”  Haley was strictly grassroots and her message spread by word of mouth.  Self magazine was listening.

Self magazine was designing the magazine’s second annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue.  Alexandra Penny, then editor-in-chief of Self, offered to do a story on Haley, saying they’d give her national attention with nothing in it for them.  According to Penney, Haley wanted nothing to do with them, saying they were too commercial.  But Self magazine still wanted to use the ribbon.  Penney talked to their lawyers who reportedly said, “Come up with another color.” Pink it is.

By this time, cause-related marketing was at least 10 years in the making.  I personally enjoy Stephen Colbert’s summary of cause-related marketing.  The jist is this -  given the same cost and quality, it is estimated that more than half of consumers will switch from a particular store or brand to one associated with a good cause.  To cash in, all a consumer products company needs is a do-good brand.  And October grows Pinker each year.

With the ribbon’s message of “awareness” translating most often into a familiarity with early detection techniques, all a company has to do to do good is put a ribbon on its merchandise.  Google “pink ribbon shoes” and you’ll find everything from pink-ribboned New Balance running shoes to pink-ribboned Dansko pink patent leather clogs, neither of which come with any claim to share the proceeds from their Pink Ribbon brands with any sort of charity.

There are of course no shortage of Pink Ribbon products out there that do come with the claim that a portion of the money you hand over for them is going to support breast cancer research, preventative care, or something related to The Cure.  As you might guess, not all of these promotional products are equal when it comes to actually transferring a percentage of your money to support a future free of breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Action (BCA) defines “Pinkwasher” as a company that purports to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribboned product, but manufactures products that are linked to an increase in the disease.  Think pink buckets of deep-fried KFC.  BCA  lists 5 critical questions to ask before you buy pink.

Personally, I identify Breast Cancer Awareness Month as a time to unite with other women who have been impacted by breast cancer.  Joining arms and spirits with a sea of pink-capped and pink-ribboned women is an incredibly powerful experience for those of us who have had breast cancer or have loved someone with breast cancer.  No amount of cause marketing can take that from us.

Susan M. Beausang, President of 4Women.com

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