Has Breast Cancer Product Marketing Gone Overboard?

In our Repost Series, we re-publish classic posts from our archives. This post, first published in October of 2007, discusses the large amount of product marketing tied to Breast Cancer awareness

This month you will be besieged by all things pink…

I remember reading an article several years ago in INC magazine, in which the author eloquently uncovered and discussed the use of the fight against breast cancer and it’s symbols in general as a marketing tool for companies.

Since that time “cause” marketing has become big business and perhaps no other cause has be used in this way more than breast cancer. On one hand, the promotion of “cause” products do help increase awareness. But on the other hand- many companies stand to make a nice profit from the selling of breast cancer awareness.

Personally, as someone who has been directly touched by breast cancer and who has worked with survivors, I think that marketing can be a good thing if it donates real dollars to a cause. I also feel that companies are drawn to breast cancer because of the perception that it is “soft and pink” (anyone who has ever gone through a mastectomy or even a mammogram, understands that “soft and pink” is a total misstatement. It hurts like hell).  Furthermore, where are these companies when it comes to heart disease, diabetes, ovarian cancer, and the many other causes that affect women?

So I have to say “Yea” for supporting the cause, but “Nay” for doing it to make a buck.

What do you think?

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  1. says

    I can’t stand the breast cancer marketing, in large part just because it is so EVERYWHERE.  Could also do in part because I don’t like the color pink… But there are just so many other causes that don’t get near the recognition or funding that breast cancer does.

  2. Elli says

    I totally agree – absolutely great if it is really helping the cause financially, however it just pisses me off that some companies do it to profit themselves.

  3. Anita says

    Breast cancer awareness and fund raising marketing have reacehd dangerous and absurb proportions.  Someone has convinced women that this is what they should be worried about, this is what might kill them.  They are wrong. 

    The chances of surviving breast cancer for five or more years are 85%.  About $28,000 is spent per breast cancer death per year on research.  By contrast the chance of surviving lung cancer for five or more years is 15%, almost twice as many women die every year of lung cancer over breast cancer, an yet only $1100 is spent per lung cancer death.

    Not an issue because you don’t smoke?  Wrong!  40% of all new lung cancer cases are former smokers or non-smokers and of those 70% are female.  Think Dana Reeve or Beverly Sills.

    All forms of cancer pale by comparison as a killer of women when you look at heart disease which kills over 200,000 women every year (more than 5 times as many as breast camcer).

    So if if one looks at it as a feminist issue or an issue of personal health, for every dollar and every moment spent on breast cancer, we need to spend three tmes that on lung cancer and five times that on heart disease.

    Makes buying pink Tic-Tacs or pink blenders seem pretty silly, doesn’t it?

  4. April says

    Thanks for brining attention to this.  Producing pink items for breast cancer is a great marketing gimmick.  I limit myself to purchases I actually need and products that donate 100% profits to the cause, like the Sonia Kashuk make-up brushes set at Target that was $20.

  5. leesh says

    i am all for raising awareness and charity but come on… this is getting carried away. and i LOVE pink! it’s too much, especially when domestic violence affects twice as many womens lives but no one is even willing to talk about that!

    october is domestic violence awareness month

  6. melissa lenz says

    I do think its great that woman are very aware of breast cancer and its saving lives BUT like everyone else I don’t like companies actually profiting off the disease. My solution is this,  I will only buy products that 100% of the profit goes to breast cancer research ect.

  7. Rebecca says

    What I don’t like about it is when you read the find print, you notice that some companies only donate a tiny portion to the charity. Like, 10 cents or something minuscule. That makes me feel like they’re taking advantage of people’s desires to do good while shopping. I look for products who donate 100 percent to the cause. For example, I bought a nice overnight bag from Marie Claire for $40, all of which went to the Glazer AIDS charity.

  8. Shauna says

    I agree that items for “Breast Cancer Awareness” should only be bought if:

    – you were going to buy the item anyways
    – and/or 100% profits go to research

    It’s not only selfish on the part of the businesses making the products, but on the part of the consumer as well. How many people buying pink grills, pink blenders, pink makeup, would just whip out a checkbook and make a flat out donation?

  9. Tina says

    I have mixed feelings on this because I’ve had loved ones die of breast cancer.  But I’ve also got loved ones that have died from Lung cancer, Colon Cancer and even skin cancer.

    Its hard for me to justify buying a pink grill when I could just donate the money.

    If I’m buying something that I know I need and money just happens to go to charity, that’s fine.  But in no way do I actually seek out products to buy just because they raise money for charity.  To me, I just make sure that I just actually donate myself.

  10. Donna says

    I am a breast cancer surviver (7 years)and I am still taking medication to prevent reoccurrance. These newer drugs are due to the reasearch that has been done over many years. I agree with the above comments that companies should not profit from anothers pain and that there are other diseases that should be funded, but to do the pink thing someone had an idea and acted on that idea.  If you are concerned about other diseases that are killing people GET PERSONALLY INVOLVED!!  Talking about what was needed did not get the Pink Rbbon Campaign started.  ACTION did.

  11. says

    It bothers me when companies profit from selling pink stuff.

    On a related note…the Mexican soccer league is playing all their games with pink balls this month in honor of Breath Cancer Awareness Month.  I thought that was pretty cool!

  12. megan says

    though their heart is semi in the right place it can be an overkill. are they just makin something pink and addin a pink ribbon just to add it and have it not somehow benefit breast cancer research if you but it? who knows but i guess as long as proceeds go towards breast cancer reasearch than it is all good

  13. says

    I have mixed feelings about all of this marketing myself.  On the one hand, I’ve known people who have had this disease and one of them passed away at a young age a couple of years ago.  I’d love to see a cure as much as the next person and I have bought some things to raise money for this cause(i.e. the Ralph Lauren pink polo player guy shirts).

    On the other hand…the above posts are absolutely right.  There are other forms of cancer that are far more insidious and the causes of which are mysterious.  Non-smokers like Dana Reeve, blogger Cathy Seipp, Beverly Sills, and Andy Kaufman have died from lung cancer.  One of my co-workers got oral cancer and she has never smoked a day in her life. 

    Moreover, women are FAR more likely to die from heart attack and stroke.  Only in the past few years there has been more awareness about cardiovascular and pulminary disease in women.

  14. Moni says

    I also despise that companies now use Oct as Breast Cancer marketing ploy.

    Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t.

    This August, I just purchased phone lanyards from coach this summer.  Reasons;

    1. I liked the item as well as the brand
    2. for Breast Cancer reserach.

    But I also send checks to St Jude for cancer reasearch and Calvary Hospital in NY for their involvement in making those who need hospice have as much peace as possible.  Cancer has affected my family greatly, anything I can do to help fight disease I will spend my money on, retail or professional.

  15. karen says

    I do like the idea of “pink products” to support and bring awareness to such a worthy cause. However, a lot of these companies donations are such a small percentage. This makes me sad. For instance, cosmetic companies. There is such a huge markup on cosmetic products and they never go on sale. I would like to see somewhere between 50% – 100% of the cost of the item to be donated. Example: $20 lipstick, company gives a min of $10 back.  These companies would still make a small profit and if not they can use it as a tax writeoff.

  16. says

    This is a struggle for me to answer.  I am an entrepreneur and see that business and charity can work together to create a win / win situation, but since my mother has battled breast cancer within the last 2 years I’m not convinced on this one.  I think sometimes that their is to much hype put on wear pink.  If we want to support breast cancer just donate the full amount to breast cancer instead of buying a pink item and getting a buck or 2 donated to the cause.  It’s a tough one, but I think it’s more of a feel good thing then really making a huge difference.

  17. says

    I love the pink George Foreman as well and any money that can be donated to breast cancer research, I am all for it since I have had family members who died from breast cancer. If anyone is upset that breast cancer gets so much attention, get out there and volunteer or promote the cause you care about and just don’t support breast cancer.

    • TBF says

      Yaya the point isn’t about giving money to breast cancer research (which is a totally worthy cause), the point is that many companies use breast cancer AWARENESS as a way to get you to buy products, WITHOUT giving any money to research. So they use the cause to make money, without giving any money to the cause.


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