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Breast Cancer and the Psychology of Marketing

The Power of an Image
Everyone loves a winning team. All sports teams have team colors and emblems, and fans proudly wear both on anything from clothing to tech gadgets. From grade school to high school to college, we all love to wear our badges of honor for our noblest of causes. Could it be though, that in some instances depending on the circumstance, it is not healthy nor fun, but very detrimental to the deep emotional psyche?

Stake Your Claim - Lives May One Day Depend on It
Since the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (SGK) was established in 1982, the pink ribbon has been mainly associated with them. However, in truth, the origin of the ribbon is controversial. Three different entities laid claim to it in the early 1990’s:

1) Komen Foundation handed out pink visors to participants at Race for the Cure in 1990 in Washington, D.C. The next year, they handed out pink ribbons.

2) Charlotte Haley, wanted to use peach-colored ribbons for awareness due to a family history of the disease and wanted to publicize the fact that the National Cancer Institute was not spending enough of their budget on cancer prevention. Along with the the ribbons, she handed out cards with information about the issue.

3) Self Magazine (1992) ran a special issue during breast cancer awareness month, and wanted to use their own ribbon to allow guest editor Evelyn Lauder, vice president of Estee Lauder to give away at the company’s cosmetic counters. The tale is that Charlotte Haley was approached by them to use her peach ribbon but a deal could not be reached. Thereby the magazine chose a pink ribbon which was distributed at Estee Lauder counters, along with guidelines on how to do a breast self-exam. This provided the pink ribbon with exposure on a grand scale, and now the rest is history.

This innocent pink ribbon has brought in billions of dollars “for breast cancer awareness”. Well, we are aware. What now?

Make Sure Your Means Has an End
It seems that this pink ribbon is a phenomenon all on its own. It is bought and sold, traded and given, all for the hope of a better day for some. But what has it actually accomplished? Those who are fighting every minute with metastatic breast cancer don’t want a cheap symbol of false hope. They want real people with true integrity to get up and do something that will bring about a change for them. They want their lives back. They are sick enough, but they are sicker still of the sea of pink.

Making Money While Losing Lives
In my general research of the pink ribbon, all results except for one were about selling products. Only Avon stated that they wanted to “end cancer”, and I give them credit for that, however, Avon has a lot of product that they need to sell. So are they using the ribbon to help sell their products, or are they using their business to help fund breast cancer research? Who are they giving the money to, and how is it being spent?

No Ownership = Loss of Control
Who actually owns rights to the pink ribbon is a mystery. Maybe no one does, and therein is the problem. I don't know the truth behind the Charlotte Haley and Estee Lauder deal, but obviously neither had the forthought to claim rights to the pink ribbon. If one of them had, I don't think we would even have this dilemma.

What If It Were You?
This would be no big deal were it not for the many breast cancer victims (Iiving and dead) who have given monetary donations routinely hoping that their gifts of hope might bring news of at least a breakthrough in scientific research that would actually make a tangible difference in their own precious questionable lifetime.

Time and Pressure
Those with breast cancer sometimes live with the disease for as long as ten years, not knowing from one day to the next if they will live or die. Their minds are psychological time bombs just waiting for someone to diffuse the bomb, or maybe wishing it would just go ahead and go off so that they might gain some mental relief. And every place they turn, all they see are pink ribbons to remind them of what they have been denied. It stirs anger in them, and putting myself in their place, I feel the same. It is a righteous and just anger.

I’m not trying to beat up the Komen Foundation, but when you’re one of the biggest, that’s the price you pay. To quote the Good Book- "...to whom much is given, much is required." This year there was a large turnout for the SGK Race for the Cure but donations were down. Nobody likes to be taken in a scam - especially when lives are at stake.

Pink Washing
I experienced "pink washing" first-hand the other day. I went to a certain cosmetics counter in the mall for face lotion. Every month I buy the small purse-sized tube of lotion. I was firmly exhorted to buy the larger size "for Breast Cancer Awareness Month". Of course, I turned down the offer. However, a well-meaning consumer who is out of the loop of this knowledge would have no problem buying a larger product, spending much more money and never knowing if that money ever went to reducing breast cancer. Before, I would have thought myself a cold-hearted consumer by not taking the bait. Now I know better.

There are many small organizations that are trying to make a difference. They may not be large, but they care and put the dollars where it will help.

If you are interested in knowing more about “pink washing”, there is a watchdog group called Breast Cancer Action who believes that “…the message [of the pink ribbon] has been corrupted by consumerism…and that corporations may profit from using the pink ribbon to market their products.” This organization actually owns the Registered Trademark phrase "Think Before You Pink." They are a powerful advocacy group, are independent, and without apology consistently dig to find the truth behind the breast cancer epidemic.

Sources: Breast Cancer Action, website is BCAction.org.
Article: History of The Pink Ribbon, Andrea Reuter (found on Livestrong.com website posted May 14, 2010)

Editor's Note: Since this post, I have found a bit more history on the pink ribbon at website called A Thermal Image. Click on the article, Breast Cancer and the Pink Connection.

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