19. Birth of the Perpetual Fundraising Industry

On the first day of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (2010) GoComics published the comic strip Non Sequiter by Wiley Miller. It explains the “Birth of the Perpetual Fundraising Industry.” When approached by a dragonslayer, the dragon offers a rational explanation as to why sparing its life would be a win-win proposition. The dragon says:

“Look. You’re dead if you lose and out of a job if you win. So what I propose is a win-win that can be summed up in 3 words…Dragon-Slaying Research.”

Non sequiter? I think not. The conclusion easily follows from the mountains of evidence that companies within and beyond the cancer industry are profiting from the cause of breast cancer.

As I wrote in Thinking the Unthinkable, “revenues from the medical imaging equipment industry grew from about $3 billion in 1997 to over $9 billion 10 years later, and healthcare analysts predict that the market for medical imaging equipment (not including services) is expected to thrive at a 7.6 percent compound annual growth rate. Sales of oncology drugs grew from under $5 billion in 1998 to over $19 billion by 2008, and analysts predict that oncology drug costs will rise 20 percent each year for the next 5 years. Oncology drugs represent the largest share of the global drug market, and sales are projected to grow at a compounded annual rate of 12 to 15 percent, reaching $75 to $80 billion by 2012.”

Outside the cancer industry, companies use the pink ribbon as an integral part of public relations and revenue-production (i.e.,”pinking”). There are many examples, but here are just a few.

Yoplait Yogurt of General Mills is the number 1 yogurt in America, and is as popular as GM’s other top brands: Cheerios, Betty Crocker, and Pillsbury. Yoplait accounts for $1.1 billion of GM’s $11.2 billion in sales. In 1998, Yoplait teamed up with Susan G. Komen for the Cure to create the “Save Lids to Save Lives” campaign. Every October, the company manufactures yogurt (now without rBGH, thanks to Breast Cancer Action) with pink lids. Consumers send them to a collection center or log in their “redemption codes” through the Yoplait website during a specific time period (through December) and Yoplait will make a donation of 10 cents per lid. There is a guaranteed minimum donation of $500,000 and a cap that of $2 million. In 2008, Yoplait received over 15 million pink lids, hitting what was then a $1.5 million cap: 1.5 million yogurts less the 10-cents-per-lid donation, yields about $5.9 million in yogurt sales. That fiscal year, GM reported a 14% sales jump for its Yoplait division.

In 2006 Ford launched itsWarriors in Pink campaign, and in 2008 the company offered the Ford Mustang with Warriors in Pink package available on the Mustang coupe, convertible, and glass roof coupe. The package includes a pink ribbon and pony fender badge, pink ribbon rocker tape and hood striping, charcoal leather trimmed seats with pink stitching, and charcoal floor mats with pink ribbon and contrast stitching. The limited-edition 2008 Mustang with Warriors in Pink package donated $250 per sale to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, totaling over $500,000. Limited to 2500 units Ford would have to sell 2000 to make the donation. About.com prices the special edition from $28,899 to $34,584 (Package adds $1,795 + Auto Transmission required $1,250). Since Ford’s sales were down 32% in 2008, expanding the consumer base with special edition vehicles could help to offset difficult financial times. How much would Ford profit from the first 2000 cars needed to make the donation to Komen? It’s hard to tell, but Ford continued the campaign the next year and overall Ford Mustang sales were up 62 percent in December 2009.

0165-fly-for-the-cureAmerican Airlines expanded its partnership with Komen in 2008 when the the airline faced near bankruptcy, with high fuel prices, low consumer demand, debt, and an aging fleet. The airline entered into a Promise Grant with Susan G. Komen for the Cure that would generate $8 million in 8 years, earmarked for the Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Program and Clinic. American Airlines will more than cover the $1 million per year allocation with its “Miles for the Cure” program, American Airlines gift cards, proceeds from AA’s annual celebrity golf and tennis event, and other promotions. By July of 2010 the company’s performance was a “$440 million improvement over the first quarter, and the first operating profit since the third quarter of 2007.” Maybe the pink ribbons, pink planes, and publicity about the AA/Komen partnership have something to do with that. If so, the special feature in last October’s American Way magazine by Chairman and CEO Gerard Arpey devoted to the AA/Komen partnership, titled “A Promise to Keep,” is a worthwhile strategy for the company.

There is a vital need for dragon-slaying research, but eventually we need to slay that dragon. Using the breast cancer brand to create ongoing revenue streams and spectacle while lighting buildings in pink may well be diverting us from that purpose.

For more consciousness raising essays, check out “30 Days of Breast Cancer Awareness.”

Be Sociable, Share!

5 comments to 19. Birth of the Perpetual Fundraising Industry

  • Who’d have thought it? Pink is good for business. Over here in England, for some reason, we’re not having a very pink October, by previous standards. Maybe the returns dropped off last year.
    Only big chain I’ve noticed, continuing with their tired old ‘Tickled Pink’ campaign is Asda, these days part of the Walmart empire.

  • Sandra Willard

    I remember years ago, I think in 2007, I saw an interview with Susan Love where she was taking questions from the audience. One woman asked her why, after all the years of fundraising, they were no closer to finding a cure. And Susan Love said something to the effect of, “Because there’s no money in it.” I was just immersing myself in the whole breast cancer culture and I was glad I heard this kind of honesty early in the process, because it very much influenced my perspective on the information that I processed.

  • Someone emailed me asking, “Does this pinking ever end?” My reply. Not Until we Stop Buying it.

  • Mary

    In the October issue of “Prevention” magazine, much to my chagrin, there was a pretty pink ad for Save the Ta Tas along with their website. I am disappointed in “Prevention” for running the add and sent an email to them as well as the, cringe, ta tas expressing my thoughts on the matter. Looks as though we have our hands full (no pun intended) with not just pink washing but the continued sexualization of the disease. My question to both “Prevention” and ta tas was. If the cause was testicular cancer would be be “Saving the Nuts”? What an insult, on more than one level, that would be to men! Yet too many women put up with an insulting sexist attitude toward BREAST cancer not ta ta cancer. I can only think it is because they have not been taught to respect themselves.

"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 cutt.ly/jei8WJr

“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).

Praise » 

Flyer »

Press Release »

Hardback Cover »

Paperback Cover »

Request Review Copies »

Order the Paperback »


"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

Backlash against “pinkwashing” of breast cancer awareness campaigns BMJ

Breast Cancer to Rise 50 Percent by 2030? Hey, Not So Fast! Health News Review

Breast Cancer: The Flaws in the Cause iafrica.com

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

The Very Pink, Very Controversial Business of Breast Cancer Awareness Racked

NFL, Pink Ribbons Not Enough to Win over Women CNN

3 Questions We Need to Answer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month Chronicle of Philanthropy

The problem with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Women's Health Magazine

Pink Ribbon Envy: Living with an Uncool Cancer The Nib

A Year After Bombings, Some Say 'Boston Strong' Has Gone Overboard NPR, All Things Considered

Canadian Mammogram Study KCRW, NPR Affiliate

Time to Debunk the Mammography Myth CNN

Breast Cancer: Awareness, Activism & Pinkwashing NPR Charlotte

Buying Pink Al Jazeera's The Stream Watch »

The Pink Backlash Orlando Sentinel

Why Jolie's Test Costs So Much CNN

Preventative Mastectomies: Disease and Deception BlogTalkRadio

Angelina Jolie and the 'Breast Cancer Gene' KCRW

Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer The New York Times Magazine.

The Story Behind the Pink Ribbon Campaign Sisters Talk Radio

WISH Interview Women's International Summit for Health

Making Cancer About The Patient, Not The Body Part CBS Pittsburgh

Sexy breast cancer campaigns anger many patients USA Today

The perils of pink The Daily

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? Salon.com

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