"Pinkwashing"

Last week while someplace deep in the heart of Twitter Land I ran across a couple tweets on a topic called “Pinkwashing”. I had never heard the term before but it did not take me long to get the gist of the conversation. The person posting used a picture of some Chiquita Banana’s much like the banner above. To them I say thank you for the latest blog idea. I was intrigued so kept digging into the subject a bit. I am in no way an authority about speaking about breast cancer or the pink ribbon campaign but since connecting with all sorts of cancer patients while doing my own work to raise awareness about rare cancer, it has certainly shed some light for me about the cancer industry as a whole and leading the pack is the pink ribbon and the many breast cancer organizations affiliated with the disease.

There are approximately 250,000 new cases of breast cancer each year in the United States. October is and has been for many years the month designated to raise awareness about breast cancer and traditionally you will see across our country (and some others) many campaigns sporting the color pink as well as the pink cancer ribbon which is associated with breast cancer all in an effort to raise awareness and of course dollars for the research being conducted to find new treatments for the disease. Everyone seems to be on board. From huge corporate venues and NFL teams to the mom and pop café on Main Street, all are wearing some sort of pink, be it a t-shirt, ball cap, socks, sneakers, pants, shorts, under garments, special name tags and everything in between. Then we get into the other marketing items with everything from coffee mugs to bumper stickers to earrings, refrigerator magnets and the like. Bagel shops selling bagels looking like ribbons, pink donuts, your favorite latte topped with pink whipped cream and buying fried chicken in a pink bucket. Pink, pink and more pink. It’s everywhere! The pink ribbon folks sure have done an awesome job bringing awareness to breast cancer.

What’s so bad about that you ask? Well, nothing in terms of getting the message out about breast cancer. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock someplace for the last 40 or more years you probably have either had the disease, had a family member with the disease or known someone who has had or passed away from the complications of breast cancer. So I think we are all pretty “aware” by now.

Now for a different perspective let’s look at how many companies actually take this as a marketing opportunity to make an extra buck playing on the sympathies of a more than eager buying public that just lost a family member or friend to breast cancer. Just like the picture of the Chiquita Banana’s. If you go to Chiquita’s website you will find a tab called “Sticker Moments” and listed there you will find a page called “Don’t Blush, Be Pink”. It tells you all about how Chiquita is partnering with the American Cancer Society. The page babbles on about being a “Good Neighbor” in terms of sustainability and such and then gives some awesome recipes using bananas for healthy living and perhaps giving the impression that maybe eating more bananas might save you from a breast cancer diagnosis. What’s the real goal here? Is it about breast cancer or is it about selling more bananas? Now don’t get me wrong, I love bananas and I have a lot of respect for the Chiquita brand. As many of you know I spent 20 years of my life selling food and I am sure I sold my share of bananas. I only use this as a perfect example of how many corporations and small businesses in America can take something from a disease and turn a profit in the month of October. It didn’t take long for many businesses figure out how to “Profit from Pink”. I found nowhere on the sight that said “we are giving a nickel a pound” or any other amount to a cancer charity, other than to say they were donating.

In the country today there are many corporations willing to partner their name with a pink ribbon. Virtually any business large or small can use a pink ribbon in the marketing of their products. There are no “Pink Ribbon Police” standing guard in case somebody decides to use it improperly. Companies will also use a “cap”. So if they pledge $10,000 and they raise that in the first week, the $10,000 cap is met but they will continue to use the ribbon and the Cancer campaign to pad the P & L for the rest of the time the marketing is in place. If a business says they are giving we generally have to take them at their word that they are giving and supporting breast cancer research.

There are even companies whose very own products and the packages they sell them in have been linked to certain types of cancer and other illnesses. Cosmetic companies, chemical companies, food manufacturers, liquor companies are just a few that come to mind. In fact I was just thinking of having the wife run down to the liquor store to buy a nicely dressed pink bottle of vodka with a ribbon on it so I could support the charity and kill my own liver in the process. A little harsh maybe but I think you get my point. The commercialization of a disease is almost as sick as the patients themselves. It’s a bit like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter or any one of a number of holidays used now for commercial purposes while diluting the original message.

Now you might think after this bit of rambling that I am against the pink ribbon campaign or I harbor a bitterness to those with breast cancer for getting a whole lot of attention. This could not be further from the truth. What all this has done for me however is to heighten my own awareness to the subject and I find that educating myself a bit more before I blindly pull a product off the shelf sporting a pink ribbon or a pink label is probably wise. I have given before and I will give and support them again. But I will be a little more cognizant of what I am buying and supporting.

There is one other thing I would like to bring up about breast cancer. While cruising social media this month there are obviously many posts on the subject. Pictures used in some of the posts sometimes show 5 or 6 women all topless after their mastectomies. I even saw one today of a woman who had her entire chest done with a tattoo in an effort to cover her scars. It was nice and I totally get that. Pictures of women breast cancer survivors show up on many of the major cancer centers social media pages and publications as well, all supporting the disease awareness. What none of those pictures show are any men. YES MEN! About 1% of all breast cancer cases are in men. I’ll grant you, it’s not many comparatively, but ask a man with breast cancer what he thinks of pink ribbons and you might be in for a surprise. Until a very recent FDA ruling men were not allowed to participate in any clinical trials for breast cancer. All funding and research have been used to study the disease in women and the treatments used traditionally with women are the only ones used in male patients as well. Please don’t forget the men. They carry with them a rare cancer and just like me with my adenoid cystic carcinoma they feel like they are on a deserted Island with no where to go. Please join me in praying for them and for those who treat them.

If you would like to read more about “Pinkwashing” you might visit the website www.thinkbeforeyoupink.org

Until next time, Ride On…..