Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pinkwashing: "Think Pink" has many seeing red

It's called "pinkwashing": Companies claiming to be raising money for breast-cancer research, when what they're really doing is raising their own profit margins.

October is breast cancer awareness month, and pink is everywhere -- on rubber gloves, on yogurt containers, even on the bottoms of cleats worn during NFL football games. It's an effort to raise awareness for something about which most people are all too aware. And though the effort started honestly -- in 1991, the Susan G. Komen foundation handed out pink ribbons to those who ran in their New York City race for breast cancer survivors, and in 1992 Self magazine and Estee Lauder brought the ribbons into department stores -- more and more companies are jumping on a pink bandwagon in order to make a few extra bucks off of breast cancer, encouraging consumers to buy pink items by promising to donate a tiny percentage of the profits to research.

This year, I'm not buying any of it, if I can help it.

In an article in The Boston Globe Magazine last year, writer Kris Frieswick pointed out that a pink ribbon is easier to look at than the ravages of an awful disease, and a lot of breast cancer survivors feel that the "Think Pink" campaigns are a reminder of their illness rather than a call to action. But what's more galling is that the little swatch of rose-colored fabric often also hides a lot of corporate greed: Companies can say they're raising money for research, but they can also limit their donations and pocket the profits on sales of beribboned merchandise. And pink ribbons turn up on the oddest of things, from office products to snack foods to clocks that proclaim "I love boobies."

Over at The 36-Hour Day, I'm urging people to think before buying pink. Take a close look at what you're being asked to buy and ask yourself three questions: What percentage of the sale goes to breast cancer research? Which organization is getting the funds? And is there a cap to how much a company donates?

I've received a lot of pitches for pink products over the last six weeks, and so far only one has clearly answered those questions. So I'm willing to spread the word: PUMA is donating 100 percent of all profits from their new Project Pink WPS clothing and accessories line to a breast cancer charity this October. Which charity? You get to help choose. Go to PUMA to vote for the charity you want; the winner will be announced in late October.

You can also help PUMA donate without buying anything. Tweet using the hash tag #projectpink once a day from now until October 18, and PUMA will donate an additional $1 to the Project Pink cause, up to $25,000. (One tweet with the hash tag, per Twitter handle, per day).

But, if you're willing to spend $99 on pink zebra-striped sheets so the manufacturer can donate a single dollar to breast cancer research (really), you should consider simply sending the full $100 directly to organizations that fight cancer instead. Why? Susan Neibur, a.k.a. Why Mommy, sums it up nicely over at Toddler Planet. She writes:
If the pink labeled cookies cost 50 cents more than the regular ones, and the company only donates 5 cents per box, stop, think, and send the 50 cents (or more) to the cancer society of your choice when you get home. If the pink-labeled candy causes you to gain weight, stop, don’t buy it. Go for a walk instead, and nosh on carrot sticks for snack, reducing risk of obesity-related cancers. If the chicken place will donate a buck when you buy a bucket of fat- and grease-laden extra crispys, stop. Eat a 5 oz piece of grilled chicken at home, and use the buck to support a friend in a race for the cure.
Which makes a lot of sense -- so much so, that I wonder why we deal with pink ribbons at all. Does wearing one allow us to show support while keeping an emotional distance? Does buying the pink version of stuff we buy anyway make us feel like we're making a difference, even though we're filling our pantries with the same products we always buy? Do those NFL players really care what color cleats they're wearing -- and do the fans watching the game do anything differently after seeing flashes of pink on the football field? Awareness is important, yes. But awareness without action doesn't help much.

Do you go out of your way to buy pink-ribboned products? Why or why not?


Anonymous said...

thanks for this! I thought I was the only one annoyed by it. While I applaud the efforts of groups like the Komen Foundation for getting awareness out and getting $ for research, I find it ridiculous that I have to save my yogurt top, mail it in, and the company will donate some small amount. My feeling is, if they felt that strongly about the foundation, donate the money directly and tell us you did. I would much rather buy THAT product and donate on my own than feel like I had to do something for the company before they would donate.
I'm happy to see companies like Puma (and Fridgidare with the Save the Children campaign) donating their own money per "tweet".
that's just my two cents. And I say this as a child of both parents who had cancer (father died of pancreatic cancer, and mother is a breast cancer survivor).

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I am just sick over this.

(Or maybe that's just the chemo talking)