On October 1, the official Twitter account of the Paris Tourist Office tweeted a charming photo of the Eiffel Tower, lit a bright, Barbie-like pink against the night sky, with a couple taking a selfie in the foreground. The photo evokes many feelings: romance, delight, a desire to visit Paris. But believe it or not, that’s not what was intended. The tweet that goes with the image says that the Tower is pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Without that explanation, many people might not have made the connection. This situation is typical of countless ads and gestures you’ll come across during Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM). One of the most successful awareness campaigns in history, BCAM has also become a marketing tool that many companies use to attract attention, approval, and sales, rather than actually trying to help the cause. Breast cancer survivor and awareness advocate Hil Moss explores this issue in a timely article. The first BCAM was in October 1985, an initiative created by the American Cancer Society and Imperial Chemical Industries (now a part of AstraZeneca) to motivate and educate women to get mammograms. In the early ‘90’s, Estée Lauder’s Evelyn Lauder founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and helped to make the pink ribbon a universal symbol of the condition. Maybe this connection with fashion was prophetic, or something that inspired a different kind of awareness. Soon, the pink ribbon - and even the color pink - became more than a symbol for breast cancer awareness. It was seen as trendy, even expected, for individuals and companies to show their support for Breast Cancer sufferers, survivors, victims, and researchers by using the color in some way. Nowadays, Moss writes, a company using pink in their logo, website, or marketing material in October “is as predictable as the return of pumpkin spice lattes and decorative gourds”. BCAM has obviously done a lot of good, and continues to do so. But this trendy, commercial side has led to what the organization Breast Cancer Action dubs “pinkwashing” - making a show of support without actually doing anything. Many companies go pink for profit; after all, if consumers think they’re buying something for a good cause or that a company supports this cause in some way, they’re more likely to make that purchase they were hesitating about. But Moss reminds readers that many of organizations don’t donate any of their profits to breast cancer research. Fortunately, the article doesn’t end with this bad news. Instead, Moss lists several ways consumers can be sure they’re actually participating in Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and not in pinkwashing. These tips include: Help survivors by using their businesses. Moss advises spending at small businesses whose owners have been directly impacted by breast cancer. This is especially important considering the financial burden many sufferers and survivors face, including medical bills. You can find these companies by doing an online search for “[type of business] owned by breast cancer survivor”. If you prefer to shop locally, as opposed to online, add your location at the end of the search. Only shop at places that actually donate. Don’t be fooled by a company’s PR. Read press releases, social media posts, and information on their website to find out what percentage (if any) of sales are actually donated to breast cancer research. Moss encourages readers not to settle for a small percentage, either. And she reminds us that we can question and push back if a company seems to be exploiting BCAM for sales without giving anything to the cause. One way to do this would be to use social media to ask why they don’t donate to breast cancer charities. Make a donation. The easiest way to support breast cancer research and related causes is, of course, to make a donation. You can donate to reputable organizations like the American Cancer Society or the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, or organizations that focus on specific issues. For instance, the Susan G. Komen charity helps breast cancer patients cover some medical costs. Moss also suggests donating to organizations that fight to reduce racial disparities in patient care and education. A company decking out its stores and online presence in pink in October could at least help raise awareness around breast cancer. But to beat breast cancer one day, we have to think beyond pink.
Contact Our Writer – Alysa Salzberg