October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the Boston Globe included a discussion of the pink ribbon campaign and cause-related marketing (products marketed with a promise of a donation to a social cause) more generally. It, like books by sociologists — including Samantha King’s Pink Ribbon Inc. and Gayle Sulik’s Pink Ribbon Blues — paints a pretty depressing picture of cause-related marketing.
As the article discusses, this approach to raising money for a cause is suspect for a number of reasons. In many instances, the percent of profit that goes to charity is very small. For example, one woman bought a candy bar being sold door-to-door under the auspices of a breast cancer donation, only to discover that she was invited to spent .42 cents to mail in a coupon (story here). The company would then donate one cent to breast cancer research! (And the chocolate was bad, too.)
In other instances, companies have a cap on how much they’ll donate. But consumers may or may not know that the cap is exceeded when they are in a position to buy the product. This is the case with New Balance.
In addition, companies that participate in cause-based marketing may do so without thinking through and altering their own practices that may be contributing to rates of breast cancer. Yoplait, for example, “pinked” their yogurt for breast cancer, even as it contained milk from cows given recombinant bovine growth hormone, a substance correlated with breast cancer rates. After pressure from Breast Cancer Action, Yoplait changed its practices (Dannon followed).
This suggests that companies participating in cause-related marketing may not really be behind the cause, but may instead simply be interested in the profits. However, cause-related marketing does give advocacy organizations a wedge. If Yoplait hadn’t pinked its product, it’s unclear whether it would have felt compelled to change its ingredients. In this sense, the hypocrisy was an opportunity.
The article also introduces Jeanne Sather, who blogs about “the most egregious, tasteless examples of pink-ribbon products.” The winner of her most recent contest for the most tasteless product: Jingle Jugs, “plastic breasts mounted taxidermy-style on wood” that jiggle and bounce in response to music. They are, as you might imagine, marketed largely to frat boys (and the like) and the breast cancer edition allowed fraternities to merge their philanthropic and misogynistic tendencies seamlessly:
Jingle Jugs’ slogan: “Partnering with our nation’s youth to save our loved ones.”
Nice double entendre there.
This type of objectification of women’s bodies in breast cancer awareness advertising is common. Renée Y. sent in this advertisement for a breast cancer research fundraiser. Again, note that it says “Save a breast,” not “Save a woman’s life.”
Opponents of cause-based marketing argue that it is fraught with ethical problems and, at its worst, is deceiving and offensive. While it does result in money for the cause, it may also reduce the amount of money people donate directly because they think that by buying the breast cancer cookies, cream cheese, combination locks, cat food, cookware, chewing gum, limo rides, and golf accessories, they’ve already done their part.
Originally posted in 2009; images found here, here, and here.
Esme — October 12, 2009
Your blog was actually a major contributor to my choice of Senior Research for my Sociology degree on this very topic. While I've yet to be published, I have used the topic as fodder for blogging.
Chryslin — October 12, 2009
I have a good friend who is a breast cancer survivor and she is very cynical about the pink marketing. Her primary problem is that everything is geared to "The CURE". She suggests that finding THE CAUSE might save a whole bunch more people, but would not nearly be as profitable for everyone involved.
zoelouise — October 12, 2009
Some consumer activists have claimed a link between rBST abd breast cancer based on the relationship between somatotropin and a compound known as insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I), and an association between IGF-I and breast tumor formation. Somatotropin stimulates local production of IGF-I in tissues to mediate some of its biological effects. IGF-I is a protein required for normal growth and health maintenance.
Recombinant bGH treatment produces a slight increase in the concentration of IGF-I in cow's milk. If it were injected, IGF-I could be active in humans. However, oral toxicity studies have shown that bovine IGF-I lacks oral activity in rats. Additionally, the concentration of IGF-I in milk of rbGH-treated cows is within the normal physiological range found in human breast milk. IGF-I is not destroyed by pasteurization of milk, but it is denatured by the heat treatment used in producing infant formula. On the basis of estimates of the amount of protein absorbed intact in humans and the concentration of IGF-I in cow's milk during rbGH treatment, biologically significant levels of intact IGF-I are unlikely to be absorbed.
A search of the medical literature has found no epidemiologic studies finding an association between breast cancer risk and consumption of milk from bST-treated cows.
I am embarassed for you.
Tanya — October 12, 2009
Ah Jingle Jugs... I'm sure any woman who's just had a double mastectomy as part of breast cancer treatment will be delighted to see another product on the market that locates women's sexuality, and perhaps their entire worth, in their breasts.
Other Kelly — October 12, 2009
I became disillusioned with cause-based marketing after I brought a bottle of Dawn dish soap that was a dollar more expensive than the other brands and promised to donate one dollar to help save wildlife.
When I got home and read the bottle's label more carefully, I discovered that in order for Dawn to donate that dollar they had promised, I had to log on to their website and type in the (almost illegibly-printed) code stamped on the bottom of the bottle I had purchased, and enter in my email address (thus ensuring a steady stream of junk mail from Dawn. When I was done entering in my code, I saw that there was cap on how much money Dawn would donate (about 50,000, I think) and their donations had already exceeded the cap, so my donation was meaningless. It made me SO ANGRY! I felt like I had been scammed out of my money and have resolved to never buy a product from Dawn again.
Other Kelly — October 12, 2009
Eh, well, sorry for all of the typeOs in my previous post. 'Written in the heat of anger, you know.
MeToo — October 12, 2009
I'm frustrated by how this 'donate for the cure' crap never points out that this research has not led to anything like a cure while cancer incidences continue to increase. In fact, existing practices (such as biopsy) are more likely to prompt cancer to spread, and chemo-'therapeutic' drugs (which are carcinogenic themselves) subsequently enter the environment and arguably cause more cases of cancer than they were used to palliate in the first place. Also, the organizations that receive this money are part of a system that denies people information about and access to safe and effective natural treatments.
Also, even more importantly, while these organizations make 'cancer research' seem like a happy, fuzzy thing, it ignores that this research entails often horrific torture and killing of non-humans. When I refuse to donate to cancer causes, explaining that I don't give money to fund vivisection, donation-seekers often seem stunned, as if they never contemplated that the money they collect ostensibly to 'save lives' actually funds death. Frankly, when I see a pink 'breast cancer' product, I see it dripping with the blood of the non-humans and the human victims killed for 'the cure' -- and they certainly won't get my money.
F Craye — October 12, 2009
Check out Breast Cancer Action: they have written alot about the commercialization of breast cancer awareness.
pg — October 13, 2009
I am looking forward to the taxidermed dancing anuses to raise awareness for prostate cancer!
Jillian C. York — October 13, 2009
Thank you for this post; I never buy any "pink" items and I've had a hard time discouraging my friends from doing so...I'm hoping this post will do the trick.
karinova — October 14, 2009
You've just got to love— and by "love" I mean "cry your eyes out about"— the fact that the "boobies" are mounted, taxidermy/trophy-style. Freudian slip, much?
Women: they're always in season.
steven — October 14, 2009
Same here, preparing materials for my oral cancer awareness campaign.
Karen — October 18, 2009
I'd just like to mention how offensive I find the "Save the Boobies" slogan that I'm seeing on T-shirts from the American Cancer Society itself. I'm not offended by breasts or by words like "boobies" -- far from it. I AM, however, offended to promoting the saving of "boobies" over the saving of the lives of women. Objectifying those with deadly cancer isn't cute to me, and breasts are not nearly as important as life. They don't even qualify as a secondary or tertiary concern for me. Yes, we'd like to keep our breasts -- but they're not the point of finding a cancer cure.
Breast Cancer Action — October 28, 2009
Dr. Lisa Wade,
Great post! Thank you so much for mentioning the work of Breast Cancer Action. We hope you continue to spread the word about Breast Cancer Action and help shed some light on the many issues surround breast cancer. Please stay up to date on all of Breast Cancer Actions campaigns and continue to help us challenge assumptions and inspire change.
Breast Cancer Action
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Naomi — March 27, 2011
I think it is important to mention how PREVENTION (as a previous poster mentioned) should also be included in all this breast cancer awareness junk.
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Taylor — October 11, 2013
What I think is so harmful in the focus on the breast beyond sexualizing a life threatening disease, is that it completely obfuscates the fact that breast cancer can spread through the blood stream and attack other organs. It's not just about breasts. I wasn't fully aware of this until my mother in law had it explode inside her body 6 years after remission, leaving her with multiple tumors in her brain and bone marrow, as well as on her lungs and liver. Oh, and she hadn't been able to pay off the last treatment from the original breast cancer. Hooray! : /
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Corey Lee Wrenn — October 11, 2013
No, not "bovine growth hormone," COW'S MILK period. TONS of research has been conducted that demonstrates a very clear link between the consumption of dairy and breast cancer.
Whever — October 11, 2013
There's a hospital nearby that has a breast cancer campaign going called "Stories of the Girls". Makes me want to bang my head against a wall every time I see it.
Guest — October 12, 2013
I like how the Second Base baseball graphic has "home base" conveniently shaped and located to look like her pubic hair. Classy.
Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet — October 14, 2013
[...] We’re half-way through pink-washing month. [...]
trillian — October 15, 2013
And that's to say nothing of the cosmetic giants who produce shit full of carcinogens and then slap pink wrappers on the this time of year...
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