From Disease-Specific Symbol to Brand Logo

The purpose of brand recognition is to influence long-term consumption, loyalty, and cultural identity–to influence how consumers think of ourselves and, in turn, what we do and what we support. Brands present niche markets with prepackaged symbols that enable consumers to express our lifestyles, dispositions, and ideals in terms of a cultural system that is easily recognizable and communicated. The Nike swoosh and accompanying “Just Do It” message taps into an important American belief about hard work and getting ahead that goes beyond the purchase of sneakers.

The branding of social issues works the same way. The color green represents a commitment to environmental sustainability. The green goods and services we purchase may, or may not, address environmental concerns, but the brand fosters an identity that resonates with the consumer’s desire to contribute in some positive way to the care of the environment. It is the idea of being green, of being part of the solution to an important social problem, which takes precedence.

Similarly, the pink ribbon that has been around for almost 20 years as the symbol for breast cancer awareness, has transformed into a logo for the breast cancer brand. Unlike the Nike swoosh, the pink ribbon does not represent a particular product or service. Instead the pink ribbon represents a concept, the idea that breast cancer is a vitally important cause and that supporting it (through consumption) represents good will toward women. Any entity that uses the logo absorbs this meaning. Organizations and corporations use the ribbon to promote commitment to the cause of breast cancer, which means loyalty to the brand and increased consumption. To this end, pink ribbon advertisements circulate widely in consumer culture. Walk into a grocery store, your local home improvement store, the KFC, or even the ATM at your bank and you are likely to see a pink ribbon during any month of the year.

The branding process blurs the distinction between the product/service (pink accoutrements/participation in pink events) and the consumer (someone who cares about the cause). In addition to fund-raising and awareness, the breast cancer brand offers consumers an identity of stylish social influence. We can think of ourselves as hip, altruistic, conscientious, and socially aware every time we buy or display pink. As Komen puts it, “If you like having fun and supporting a great cause, Passionately Pink for the Cure is for you! It’s as easy as planning something fun, inviting others to join you and raising money to fight breast cancer.” Advertisements from breast cancer organizations and corporations alike present the cause of breast cancer as a feel good lifestyle choice. Spend money, raise money, have fun, wear pink!

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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”

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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"Seeing clearly through the pink haze" Toronto Sun

*Sad face*: Being happy does not help you live longer" New Scientist

How should we address breast cancer when norms continually change? The Guardian

Your Fun 'No Bra Day' Photos Are Overshadowing Terminal Breast Cancer Patients Broadly

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Breast Cancer: The Flaws in the Cause

How to Make the Biggest Impact With Your Breast Cancer Donations Money

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NFL, Pink Ribbons Not Enough to Win over Women CNN

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Buying Pink Al Jazeera's The Stream Watch »

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Komen pink campaign creates breast-cancer blues for some Dallas Morning News

A yellow flag for the NFL's pink New York Daily

Gayle Sulik named #7 in SharecareNow’s Top 10 Online Influencers in Breast Cancer

Breast cancer cancer causes so easily derailed Philly Inquirer

Komen Charity Under Microscope for Funding, Science Reuters

The Fight Against Cancer - And Abortion?

Susan G. Komen For the Cure defunds Planned Parenthood. In Deep with Angie Coiro

Amid Breast Cancer Month, Is there Pink Fatigue? NPR's All Things Considered

How is Breast Cancer Culture Undermining Women's Health? America’s Radio News Network

Pink Ribbon Culture and Breast Cancer The Kojo Nnamdi Show

The Big Business of Breast Cancer
Marie Claire

Does Breast Cancer Awareness Month Crowd Out Other Diseases? Slate

Pink Inc. Has Many Starting to See Red The Sacramento Bee

Get Your Pink Off Ottawa Citizen

Komen Pink Ribbons Raise Green and Questions USA Today