Thinking about pinkwashing before you buy pink

Posted By


At the start of “breast cancer awareness month,” the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported, “Those pink products you assume are helping cancer research? Not so fast…” Excerpts:

“Breast cancer’s monolithic pink ribbon symbol will be everywhere this month — on NFL jerseys and breakfast cereal; clothes and cell phone cases; office supplies and bottles of wine.

p8437682reg.jpg The “Think Before You Pink” campaign encourages consumers to ask questions before buying something with a pink ribbon: How much money from the purchase goes toward the cause? Where does it go? Is there a cap on donations? What is the company doing to make sure its products aren’t actually contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?

In recent years, Breast Cancer Action has rallied against “pink washing,” where companies give to the cause through products that may be linked to breast cancer.”

Breast Cancer Action this year has launched a “Think Before You Pink Blog.” For example, the blog notes “alcohol companies’ pinkwashing.” Excerpt:

“While we do believe that the media focuses too heavily on lifestyle (diet and exercise, for example) in discussion of breast cancer risk, it’s irresponsible for companies to encourage people to “drink year round for breast cancer”.

Meantime, Fran Visco of the National Breast Cancer Coalition Foundation posted a YouTube video and message. Excerpt:

“Today we give up hope. It’s the most optimistic step ever taken in the history of the breast cancer battle.

Today we set a goal. Today we set a deadline. January 1, 2020. The end of breast cancer. Hope is a wish. The deadline is a commitment. Hope says whenever. The deadline says within ten years. What if we fail? We already have. What about pink? It’s time to show our true colors. Ten years is too short? We ended polio in seven.

A deadline changes everything. No experiment, no charity, no lab, no doubt, no promise, no critic, no iota of research can occur outside of its context. Today the conversation changes. 2020. The end of breast cancer.”

You might also like


Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.

Carolyn Thomas

October 7, 2010 at 9:34 am

Thanks Gary for this timely essay. There are a number of niggling issues about pinkwashing. As Dr. Samantha King writes in her book, Pink Ribbons Inc: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy:
“Beyond being an all-too-frequent and still-too-lethal disease for many women, breast cancer is a corporate dream come true.
“Corporations secure free publicity and a means to expand their market share via enlogoed ‘awareness’ campaigns. The rank and file, conditioned by now to believe that there’s no problem shopping can’t solve, are invited to feel virtuous and altruistic whenever they buy a Yoplait yogurt or a pink KitchenAid mixer.”
Make no mistake: corporate marketers love breast cancer. It lacks the touchy “lifestyle issues” of AIDS or lung cancer, which rightly or wrongly are largely considered by donors as being self-inflicted. And there’s real money to be made by slapping on a pink ribbon and a vague promise to “support breast cancer awareness”. Campbell Soup, for example, doubled sales of their pink-clad tomato and chicken noodle soups a few years ago, and even after donating 3.5 cents per pink can to a breast cancer charity, realized huge net profits from their doubled sales.
Thanks also for mentioning the website ‘Think Before You Pink’, which should be required reading for all who genuinely want to do something to help the breast cancer cause. They correctly point out that although the focus of most pinkwashing is “early detection” through more mammograms, TBYP reminds us that awareness does little to prevent the disease, and mammograms merely catch the cancer that’s already there – and more importantly, NOT all lumps need invasive, expensive treatment. Tell that to drug giant AstraZeneca, official corporate sponsor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (and coincidentally manufacturer of at least four breast cancer treatment drugs).
Breast cancer has become a “pervasive branding opportunity” for corporate marketers, as author and cancer patient Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote in her Salon essay this month: ‘The Smug Morality of Breast Cancer Awareness Month’ at
More on this at: ‘What Women With Heart Disease Can Learn From Pinkwashing This Month’ at:
Carolyn Thomas

Loria Porta

October 13, 2010 at 1:53 pm

It’s amazing how widespread the pink-washing is, but companies who are legitimately donating funds to breast cancer shouldn’t be ignored. One of my friends works for a dealership that’s donating money for every car they sell and giving out a Coach purse keychain. The dealership is actually setting a goal, which is something some of these pink-wash companies are not doing. They did do a pink wash their website though, lol,