November 24, 2011

Marketing, Cancer and Health

clip_image001By Janis Prince Inniss

What do the following items have in common?

  • Yogurt
  • Mugs
  • Caps and hats
  • Blow dryers
  • Curling irons
  • Flat irons
  • Cars
  • Bracelets
  • Key chains
  • Blenders
  • Bags
  • Sunglasses
  • Men’s designer shirts
  • Buckets of fried chicken

Give up? Actually, the list could be much longer. These are just some of the items available for purchase that are associated with breast cancer awareness as indicated by their pink colors. I guess the list would be much shorter if I thought about where I have not seen the ubiquitous pink ribbon or “pink washed” items.

clip_image002As a sign of breast cancer awareness, the pink ribbon and pink items are now seen just about everywhere, especially during October – National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Depending on your age, it may seem that pink has always been synonymous with breast cancer awareness. This is not the case though, since public mentions of breast cancer used to be taboo. Since its inception in 1982, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure—an organization dedicated to ending breast cancer – has used pink as its color. And In 1991 the organization handed out pink ribbons at their New York race for awareness. In turn, this inspired Evelyn Lauder (daughter-in-law of cosmetics giant Estee Lauder) and a friend to give out pink ribbons at Estee Lauder makeup counters in 1992 as a reminder to women to have breast examinations. (It was Lauder’s recent death that educated me about her role in the creation of the Pink Ribbon campaign for breast awareness.)

What do any of these products have to do with breast cancer anyway? In the book Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy, author Samantha King makes the point that these campaigns focus on fundraising for curing the disease but don’t help us learn why the disease is so prevalent. Further, King argues that this “pinkwashing” distracts us from the fact that more people than ever before are being diagnosed with the disease.

Also, many of the major foundations dedicated to research on breast cancer are managed by pharmaceutical and other corporate representatives. King points out that it is in the interest of these corporations to keep the focus on treating, rather than actually eradicating, breast cancer since these companies sell drugs and testing equipment. At the same time, many of these corporations also sell products that are implicated in causing various cancers; for example, before a successful campaign for a change, Yoplait yogurt included synthetic growth hormones linked to cancer.

clip_image004The Pink Ribbon campaign has made breast cancer highly visible. Surely, that is a good thing. But it is noteworthy that breast cancer claims fewer lives than other diseases. Of course, anything we can do to decrease deaths of any disease is a great thing. However, I can’t help but wonder why these other diseases don’t receive the kind of ‘publicity’ that breast cancer does. (Although in its fourth year, I’ve only just heard of Movember—men growing mustaches to bring awareness to men’s health.) For example, one district in Washington, tried to draw attention to colon cancer by creating a billboard campaign featuring pictures of people with quizzical expressions and the following question: “What's up your butt?” The ads had to be removed as people felt they were in poor taste. Certainly our associations with breasts are useful in this “fight” making breast cancer a great cause to support – it’s like supporting “our mothers”.

With all of this focus on breast cancer, few women pay attention to the actual number one killer of women, heart disease. And given that the best way to prevent heart disease is with a healthy lifestyle, the profit motive may be missing for corporations to align themselves with this disease the way they do with breast cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death of American women. What kind of cancer causes the most deaths among women? No, not breast cancer. The correct answer is lung cancer (40.0 per 100,000), at almost twice the rate of breast cancer (22.8 per 100,000). Both heart disease and lung cancer are tied to lifestyle choices, and that may make us less sympathetic to those afflicted with either disease.

Pink Ribbon Documentary clip

The runs, walks, and sales of pink items may help us to feel like we are part of a social movement, but does any of this have the impact we hope? King stresses that we have to be careful that social movements don’t become co-opted by corporations which simply help us spend more money—money that often stays with the corporations and not with the cause we think we’re addressing. In that vein, here are some questions you might consider before buying pink.

For a light look at corporate partnerships with various diseases, check out this clip from The Colbert Report (minute 1:13).


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Great blog! You also might want to check out a book written by a sociologist on this same topic:

Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women's Health by Gayle Sulik. Sulik argues that the pink ribbon campaign has NOT improved women's health. In fact, the only thing that has improved since the introduction of these pink ribbons are the profits of those in the pink ribbon industry. Check it out:

An excellent blog. Well thoughout and full of statistics that I was not aware of about lung cancer and the rates of women with breast cancer. I think though that it would add to maybe talk some about the impact that cancer has on families as a whole to learn another member has cancer.

A very informative blog and for me, very clarifying, because I am very aware of so many other types of cancer and their severity and I always wanted to know how breast cancer got all the attention.

This whole breast cancer thing has been going on for awhile, and I really like it! So much support from everyone, and for everyone that buys these products. It's nice to see that everyone has a heart. Thanks for posting!

Thanks for the information, Peter.

The campaign has made cancer malignancy of the breasts highly visible. Surely, that is a advantage. But it is popular that cancer malignancy of the breasts claims fewer lives than other diseases.

That's right - on the cover of Duke Medicine's Connect magazine the institution proclaims that its new cancer institute is the "world's kindest." Interesting. Duke has always owned the high tech/advanced medicine position in the region, hands down. They are a national and international powerhouse. But through its marketing Duke has continually worked to be perceived as a high touch institution

The California Division of the American Cancer Society has an immediate opening for a full time Healthcare Corporate Initiatives Director based in Sacramento, California.

a friend to give out pink ribbons at Estee Lauder makeup counters in 1992 as a reminder to women to have breast examinations.

There is breast cancer awareness toilet paper with pink ribbons all over it, and of course breast cancer awareness toothbrushes. The public is led to believe that being in possession of such items will promote an awareness of this pandemic, and it does. Instead it has an adverse effect.

my thought s are emphasis is on the breast cancer because before one succumbs to it the breasts are chopped off. breasts are important features on a womans body.
true other diseases also need the attention

This is why an HSA is important to everyone. It makes premium healthcare accessible to people who normally cannot afford it. I hope this site can help.

Thank you for sharing this content its very informative about cancer and other health issues

Thank you for the interesting article. I work in the field of marketing and I can agree with you on some points. I can also say that now email marketing is becoming more and more popular. I am working in this direction. More precisely, I work with the tool, which helps to verify emails. And then business offers are sent to these email addresses.

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