Pinkwashing October


Well it is October, I don’t know that from my calendar, or pumpkin spice madness, or even from copious Halloween TV programming. No, I know it is October from all the pink. Pink is absolutely everywhere, and why is that? Say it with me: It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This month everything has turned pink. Grocery store items are filled with pink labeled products, everyone is wearing pink-even the NFL and Breast Cancer Awareness is discussed all over television. The awareness for such a lethal disease is a wonderful thing, 20 years ago no one knew the risks of breast cancer like we do now. But is all this pink actually helping the cause?

No. As a marketing coordinator, I am fascinated how corporations have turned a deadly disease into a marketing tool, and a damn good one. The first breast cancer ribbon was not even the hot pink we know today, it was a peach ribbon created by Charlotte Haley in 1991 who wanted to gain support for research and prevention of breast cancer. She was approached by corporations wanting to partner with her and she declined because she was afraid of corporate interests getting involved. But the corporations didn’t let Haley’s refusal stop them. They simply changed the color of the ribbon.

Many companies slap pink packaging on their products to appeal to customers who want to ‘do good’. If people can buy their everyday products and support a charity without doing anything extra, of course they are going to. A good portion of companies support breast cancer charities but don’t give to these charities based on products sold. For example, Amazon may pledge to give $25,000 to Susan G. Koman, then put pink on it’s products. Whether you buy a pink product or not, Amazon will still give the donation, your purchase does nothing to effect that (Amazon was a purely made up example).

Or if money from purchases on pink items do go charity, often they are small percentages or the company has a cap on how much it will donate. For example, Yoplait’s popular Lids for Lives campaign. To participate you must buy the specialty packaged yogurt, then send in the lids to Yoplait. All this work for only 10 cents per lid. And even with that, Yoplait has a $2,000,000 cap. Once they donate 2mil, they are done and no they won’t release that info to the consumer (Yoplait is a real life example).

What about the NFL? The National Football League has even joined in on the pinkwashing. In the month of October the players wear pink accents on their uniforms, the coaches wear pink, there are pink towels and water bottles on the sidelines, and even the field has a pink ribbon on it. Ever wonder why an all-male sport goes all out for a female disease? To get more women as fans. Along with all the pink on the field, there are plenty of pink clothing items and memorabilia off the field that are targeted at women. But they probably raise a lot of money, right? Only 8% of pink NFL items sold go to charity.

Ok even if the charities aren’t getting as much money as we thought, they do benefit from awareness, right? Well that is debatable. Twenty years ago, early detection and prevention were the main focus but the fact is it worked, awareness has spread like wildfire. But what hasn’t changed? The rates of women dying from breast cancer or treatment options. Not enough money is going to research. And major charity Susan G. Koman only gives 21% of proceeds to research. Not to mention their CEO gets a $600k+ salary, which is more than the CEO of the Red Cross makes.

So what do we do? We work to become more informed consumers. Before we blindly buy anything ‘pink’ we should research how much of our money is going to charity, what charity it is going to and what that charity is going to do with that money. To stay informed on ‘pinkwashing’, check out these articles:



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