Wednesday, May 2, 2007

I am SO aware

Who is paying for all this breast cancer product placement? While getting coffee this morning, I noticed that the woman in front of me was wearing a nurse's uniform; you know the look - white clogs, magenta scrubs on the bottom, and a color-coordinated and utilitarian short-sleeved top. The breast pocket of her generic floral shirt was adorned with a pink ribbon decal that said, "Aware."

Now I've been alive long enough to know the pink ribbon connotes breast cancer awareness. And I get the importance of keeping the public - particularly people with money to fund research and women who need to get their breast health checked regularly - mindful of this underfunded and once under-diagnosed disease. I did my time in the field, having once interned for the National Women's Health Network where I sat in on FDA tamoxifen hearings. I have lost women I respect and love to breast cancer, and am grateful for so many more who are still here due to early diagnosis and breakthroughs in treatment - all funded in part by the M&Ms and Beanie Babies purchased by me.

But, the pink ribbon is becoming so pervasive as a marketing tool that it is losing its potency as an advocacy tool. We've all seen the stamps and the M&Ms. How about
  • Breast cancer spatulas
  • Breast cancer fondue pots
  • Breast cancer rubber gloves
  • Breast cancer BMWs
  • Breast cancer tweezers
  • Breast cancer post-it notes
  • Breast cancer iPod cases
  • Breast cancer chapstick
  • Breast cancer smoothies in a can
  • Breast cancer boxing gloves
  • Breast cancer skis
  • Breast cancer frozen dinners.
I could go on.

A website called Think Before You Pink appears to be calling for more responsibility in cause-related marketing to support breast cancer research and awareness. Some of the questions they ask include,
... How much money goes to the cause? What is it supporting? How is it being raised? And will it truly affect the fight against breast cancer? Make sure you know what your money is actually supporting, and consider whether shopping will truly make a difference. What the breast cancer movement needs is political involvement and action to create real change—and we don't mean the kind you keep in your pocket.

What I feel is that too many companies are slapping a pink ribbon on their products, giving some money to breast cancer research, and then milking the "breast cancer awareness" designation to sell products to women long after their donations have ended. For example, I read on "Think Before You Pink," that the donation portion of Pink Ribbons Tic Tacs was this: "...between September and October (of one year), 5 cents from every pack sold will be donated to CancerCare, with a maximum donation of $100,000." Suggested retail for the special Tic Tacs was $0.79. I KNOW I saw them retailed for much more than this. Because retailers KNOW women will spend more for breast cancer anything. So, we pay more, retailers earn more, and the amount given to breast cancer research and diagnosis stays capped. I bet there were more than 2 million packages of breast cancer Tic Tacs sold. Think about it. There are more than 300,000,000 people in the United States. If half of these people are women (150,000,000) and approximately 50% of these women are within the age range to get breast cancer (75,000,000) and an estimated 1 in 8 will be diagnosed with breast cancer, that is more than 9,000,000 women with breast cancer. The breast cancer Tic Tacs gave $0.05 for first 2,000,000 packages sold during a two month period in one year. If every woman potentially diagnosed with breast cancer bought a package of breast cancer Tic Tacs, more than 9,000,000 packages would be sold. Meaning the retailers or the Tic Tac people were able to sell the product at a higher price while getting good publicity and manipulating the public's perception about the magnitude of their commitment or generosity. Don't you feel used? I know I do.

I invite consumers to think before they pay higher prices for products simply because they are pink or have a pink ribbon emblazoned somewhere on their package. If you are buying for the novelty of it, then go for it. However, If you are buying because you want to support breast cancer research or awareness, there might be a better way - by giving to Breast Cancer Action, the National Women's Health Network, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation or your local hospital system.

No comments: