Back in the day – in this case the early ‘90s – I had many friends with HIV and/or AIDS. One of whom, a true gentleman named John Kelley, wore on his jacket a Star Trek badge (right) and a red ribbon which many people were wearing then to show they knew AIDS existed. When asked about this heraldry he would respond, “Because Star Fleet cares about AIDS.” (RIP, dear John.) Which is pretty much where I’m at with all the pink that washes over marketing each October.
Let me make one thing very clear: Like everyone else, I know many people who have had breast (and other types of) cancer. One of those is Mother CollateralDamage. So it will not surprise you to learn that I, like everyone else, don’t like cancer. Now plenty of companies have done a lot to help fund research into preventing breast cancer and to them I say, “You may stop reading now.” The other day the family was driving by the HQ of New Balance sneakers and we noticed a large pink ribbon affixed to the building. Mrs. CollateralDamage: “They’ve earned it.”
But the problem is that many companies are now just slapping pink on the product or advertising and claiming they support “Breast Cancer Awareness.” As a commenter on a wonderful NYT column about Pink Ribbon Fatigue put it, “Buying stuff with pink ribbons will send some money to research and/or outreach, but it hard to tell how much that yoplait helps. Posting ‘awareness’ status updates on facebook does absolutely nothing – I have yet to meet a person that wasn’t aware of breast cancer’s existence."
My current favorite bizarro pink item is the Chambord special breast cancer edition liquor bottles. They were brought to my attention via this wonderful blog post at Change.Org by Brie Cadman entitled “Pink Ribbon Hypocrisy: Boozing It Up For Breast Cancer.” Ms. Cadman is understandably irate over companies that contribute to the causes of breast cancer then trying to earn good will via the Big Pink:
The biggest offenders are fast food and alcohol companies. According to the National Cancer Institute, both obesity and alcohol are associated with an increased breast cancer risk. Yet that hasn’t stopped these companies from claiming their goods help support or even prevent the disease. First off is KFC, the company that seems to know no bounds when it comes to using women to sell their products. The last time we checked in with the fried-chicken-slinging folks, they were using college women’s bums to promote their own buns. But they’re also capitalizing on breast cancer by selling pink buckets and donating $0.50 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
While I don’t agree with all Ms. Cadman’s arguments, I think they are part of a much needed dash of reality. Consumers need to be a lot more diligent about what a company means when it says it is “supporting” a charity.
Some parts of this all this pinkosity I enjoy: Like the sight of professional baseball players having to make the Freudian subtext obvious by playing with pink bats. I just wonder how much good this actually does. I would be more impressed if more emphasis was put on helping an actual person cope with cancer treatment. Bring them a meal, if they want one. Hang out after the chemo when they have no energy and feel like crap and don’t want to be alone and are afraid they’re of being a burden to family and friends. Take them to a movie. Be available for middle of the night phone calls. Run errands, etc., etc., etc. Let’s move “cancer awareness” from the generic, wholesale level to a more personal, retail experience. It’s easy to support “people” with cancer, it is much harder to support an actual person.
And remember, Star Fleet cares about people with breast cancer.