Runaway Ribbons and De Facto Cause Support

Paula’s thinking pink, are you? Regardless, you may be supporting pink cause marketing by default.

Pink products are so ubiquitous  – especially during breast cancer awareness month that you might have to go out of your way to avoid pink ribbons when you purchase your favorite products.

One of my readers told me a story about how she accidentally bought a pink-ribboned item even though she usually avoids products with the pink ribbon because she does not believe in cause marketing. She prefers to support social causes in more direct ways, like being a member of an advocacy group or reading about breast cancer from evidence-based sources. Even so, one day Maria ended up participating in cause marketing without her knowledge.

She told me that she went to a local department store to buy a new tea kettle. On display was a bright red kettle from a brand she likes, KitchenAid. She asked a sales person to find one in its original packaging, and she bought it.

When Maria got home and opened the box, she saw an inconspicuous pink ribbon she hadn’t noticed before. Furious about inadvertently participated in pink cause marketing, she returned the kettle and bought another brand.

Would it have been so bad to keep the pink-ribboned kettle and give a few cents to the cause through some marketing program?

For Maria, the answer is an unequivocal yes.

“Why trivialize and weaken the fight against breast cancer by diluting it with the marketing efforts of corporations,” she remarks. “The fight can stand alone.”

The sea of pink during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and now throughout the year is especially unsettling to Maria because she believes it makes light of a dire situation. One of her close friends died from breast cancer. Her friend had access to health insurance and the best doctors and facilities. She engaged in treatment, did what she was supposed to do, fought hard, and then died. It was not a cheerful experience.

From Maria’s perspective, pink ribboned product placements hide the dark reality of breast cancer and profit from the disease at the same time. For her, the tea kettle incident highlights how rampant but empty the pink ribbon has become. What’s more, whether you want to support breast cancer through pink cause marketing or not, sometimes you have little choice.

If you eat yogurt in October you might unwittingly give 10 cents indirectly to some company or organization that purports to be in the interests of the breast cancer cause when they may or may not be at all. If you buy a new tea kettle and you like KitchenAid, guess what? You’ll be giving money too. Does American Airlines have the only nonstop flight to your next destination? You see where this is going. Personal choice is becoming less and less a part of the cause marketing equation.

You see where this is going. Personal choice is becoming less and less a part of the cause marketing equation.

To bring personal choice back in, it’s time for consumers to do what Maria did and stand up to the pink. She now reminds herself to read boxes and labels carefully to know where those extra donor pennies are going. She also believes that conscientious consumers should investigate issues, causes, and organizations before lending their support so they know how they truly operate.

Thanks for sharing your experience, Maria. It makes an important point about how vigilant consumers must be to ensure that our purchases and donations are getting to the people and programs we want to support.

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"women urged to get screened because it might save their lives. But that’s only 1 possible outcome, and it’s the least likely one" @cragcrest

“Pink Ribbon Blues”

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