Inundation and Pink Ribbon Advertising

In modern capitalist society, everything has its price. Marketing and advertising are everywhere as huge corporations try to sell Americans our way of life. The culture that arises from this consumption-based logic influences what we believe to be worthwhile and important, what we do and how we do it. Of course, individuals are not automatons mindlessly emptying our wallets to every promotion and advertisement we see. But, marketing specialists know that inundation has influence. This is precisely why billboards line our highways, interrupt our favorite TV shows, cover the sides of buses, and comprise about 50 percent of every print magazine.

After awhile, inundation is the norm. Advertising is part of the fabric of everyday life. Sometimes we barely notice. Our focused attention is optional. We have a choice. We can look away. Yet, we always perceive on some level the environment around us. In his book Mediated, anthropologist Thomas de Zengotita writes that this postmodern cultural environment is one of interruption and superficial engagement. Likewise, since advertising works on the surface level with sound bites of meaning and symbolism, canned emotions and smidgets of information, its force also operates beneath our radar. The shifting from foreground to background is why advertising inundation works so seamlessly. We can go on as if it doesn’t matter.

Pink ribbon culture operates in this mass mediated, consumptive environment. To increase awareness of the cause, breast cancer activists successfully used mass media to get breast cancer out of the closet and into the public discussion. After the pink ribbon emerged in 1992, the cause of breast cancer started to operate more fully on the symbolic level. The ribbon represented “breast cancer awareness” and helped organizations to raise funds and fortify political commitment to the cause. Over time, and with the help of corporate marketing and mass media distribution, breast cancer (the illness) began to function socially as a brand name with a pink ribbon logo.

What are the implications of branding an illness? Stay tuned.

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“Pink Ribbon Blues”

Paperback includes a new Introduction on fundraising controversies and a color insert with images of, and reactions to, the pinking of breast cancer (2012).

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