Sunday, October 10, 2010

Think Before You Pink

From CTV Ottawa. First it was "greenwashing", and now we have "pinkwashing."

"Every October, stores become a sea of pink as shelves fill with products adorned with pink ribbons or repackaged in pink as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It's all seen as a feel-good win-win: Consumers get the products they want while helping out a great cause. What could be wrong?

Lots, say groups and breast cancer patients who are sick of companies trying to push shoppers into thinking that pink candies, pink toasters and pink spatulas will make a dent in curing cancer.

It's bad enough, they say, that corporations are profiting off the pink ribbon – and the disease that left them feeling anything but pink. It's worse when those companies "pinkwash": hitching a ride on the pink ribbon bandwagon to sell products actually linked to cancer."

Can you say M-A-R-K-E-T-I-N-G?

"Queen's University associate professor Samantha King has also raised a stink about pink. In 2006, she wrote "Pink Ribbons Inc.," one of the first critical looks at how breast cancer has been co-opted by corporate ad men (and women).

Every October, King says she sees plenty of examples of "pinkwashing." But this year, three questionable campaigns stand out for her.

One is the KFC Buckets for a Cure campaign in the U.S., in which 50 cents from every bucket of fried chicken is going to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

"KFC sells products that are salt- and fat-laden, and injected with hormones, and they are the subject of a lawsuit in California about a potential carcinogen that they use in the processing of their chicken," King tells

Another is the annual campaign by Ultramar gas stations in Quebec, in which stations are plastered with big pink ribbons. King notes a number of studies have linked air pollution to breast cancer so encouraging people to buy more gas is not going to help.

But the most mind-boggling pink-ribbon tie-in she's seen is a handgun sold in the U.S. that features a bubblegum pink grip. Its manufacturer promises to donate a portion of proceeds to breast cancer awareness.

"So they're saving lives by taking lives?" asks a bewildered King."

I take it they haven't seen the Hello Kitty guns. You ask me, the same person is doing both invasive marketing campaigns.

"Many have accused the pink ribbon campaign of promoting "slacktivism": the belief that going shopping or "clicking for a cure" will make difference. If people really wanted to contribute to cancer research, they would sit down to write a cheque to a charity or research facility, the argument goes. But King says she understands why people choose to contribute through pink ribbon merchandising."


"I'm just trying to draw attention to its limitations. Where is the money really going? How much of it is going there? There are so many questions we need to ask."

As am I with this past post, and this colored ribbon campaign.

I'm really glad to see it isn't just America inundated with this stuff! I've seen pink garden tools, pink appliances, pink cat food, and at Sam's Club yesterday, there was a whole aisle devoted to pink products--baby wipes, antibacterial wipes, furniture polish wipes, BBQ starter fluid, laundry supplies, paper towels, various picnic supplies, school supplies, the list goes on. I'm only surprised that Susan G. Komen herself wasn't trying to hawk popcorn cookies, and calendars outside the damned store!

One of our skyscrapers has even changed to pink exterior lighting for the month. So much for Halloween.


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